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Title: Essai sur l'imagination créatrice. English - Essay on the Creative Imagination
Author: Ribot, Th. (Théodule), 1839-1916
Language: English
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_All rights reserved._


Arthur Allin, Ph. D.,





The name of Th. Ribot has been for many years well known in America, and
his works have gained wide popularity. The present translation of one of
his more recent works is an attempt to render available in English what
has been received as a classic exposition of a subject that is often
discussed, but rarely with any attempt to understand its true nature.

It is quite generally recognized that psychology has remained in the
semi-mythological, semi-scholastic period longer than most attempts at
scientific formulization. For a long time it has been the "spook
science" _per se_, and the imagination, now analyzed by M. Ribot in such
a masterly manner, has been one of the most persistent, apparently real,
though very indefinite, of psychological spooks. Whereas people have
been accustomed to speak of the imagination as an entity _sui generis_,
as a lofty something found only in long-haired, wild-eyed "geniuses,"
constituting indeed the center of a cult, our author, Prometheus-like,
has brought it down from the heavens, and has clearly shown that
_imagination is a function of mind common to all men in some degree_,
and that it is shown in as highly developed form in commercial leaders
and practical inventors as in the most bizarre of romantic idealists.
The only difference is that the manifestation is not the same.

That this view is not entirely original with M. Ribot is not to his
discredit--indeed, he does not claim any originality. We find the view
clearly expressed elsewhere, certainly as early as Aristotle, that the
greatest artist is he who actually embodies his vision and will in
permanent form, preferably in social institutions. This idea is so
clearly enunciated in the present monograph, which the author modestly
styles an essay, that when the end of the book is reached but little
remains of the great imagination-ghost, save the one great mystery
underlying all facts of mind.

That the present rendering falls far below the lucid French of the
original, the translator is well aware; he trusts, however, that the
indulgent reader will take into account the good intent as offsetting in
part, at least, the numerous shortcomings of this version.

I wish here to express my obligation to those friends who encouraged me
in the congenial task of translation.

A. H. N. B.


Contemporary psychology has studied the purely reproductive imagination
with great eagerness and success. The works on the different
image-groups--visual, auditory, tactile, motor--are known to everyone,
and form a collection of inquiries solidly based on subjective and
objective observation, on pathological facts and laboratory experiments.
The study of the creative or constructive imagination, on the other
hand, has been almost entirely neglected. It would be easy to show that
the best, most complete, and most recent treatises on psychology devote
to it scarcely a page or two; often, indeed, do not even mention it. A
few articles, a few brief, scarce monographs, make up the sum of the
past twenty-five years' work on the subject. The subject does not,
however, at all deserve this indifferent or contemptuous attitude. Its
importance is unquestionable, and even though the study of the creative
imagination has hitherto remained almost inaccessible to experimentation
strictly so-called, there are yet other objective processes that permit
of our approaching it with some likelihood of success, and of continuing
the work of former psychologists, but with methods better adapted to
the requirements of contemporary thought.

The present work is offered to the reader as an essay or first attempt
only. It is not our intention here to undertake a complete monograph
that would require a thick volume, but only to seek the underlying
conditions of the creative imagination, showing that it has its
beginning and principal source in the natural tendency of images to
become objectified (or, more simply, in the motor elements inherent in
the image), and then following it in its development under its manifold
forms, whatever they may be. For I cannot but maintain that, at present,
the psychology of the imagination is concerned almost wholly with its
part in esthetic creation and in the sciences. We scarcely get beyond
that; its other manifestations have been occasionally mentioned--never
investigated. Yet invention in the fine arts and in the sciences is only
a special case, and possibly not the principal one. We hope to show that
in practical life, in mechanical, military, industrial, and commercial
inventions, in religious, social, and political institutions, the human
mind has expended and made permanent as much imagination as in all other

The constructive imagination is a faculty that in the course of ages has
undergone a reduction--or at least, some profound changes. So, for
reasons indicated later on, the mythic activity has been taken in this
work as the central point of our topic, as the primitive and typical
form out of which the greater number of the others have arisen. The
creative power is there shown entirely unconfined, freed from all
hindrance, careless of the possible and the impossible; in a pure state,
unadulterated by the opposing influence of imitation, of ratiocination,
of the knowledge of natural laws and their uniformity.

In the first or analytical part, we shall try to resolve the
constructive imagination into its constitutive factors, and study each
of them singly.

The second or genetic part will follow the imagination in its
development as a whole from the dimmest to the most complex forms.

Finally, the third or concrete part, will be no longer devoted to the
imagination, but to imaginative beings, to the principal types of
imagination that observation shows us.

May, 1900.



Translator's Preface                                             v

Author's Preface                                               vii



  Transition from the reproductive to the creative
  imagination.--Do all representations contain motor
  elements?--Unusual effects produced by images: vesication,
  stigmata; their conditions; their meaning for our
  subject.--The imagination is, on the intellectual side,
  equivalent to will. Proof: Identity of development;
  subjective, personal character of both; teleologic
  character; analogy between the abortive forms of the
  imagination and abulias.                                       3





  Dissociation, preparatory work.--Dissociation in complete,
  incomplete and schematic images.--Dissociation in series.
  Its principal causes: internal or subjective, external or
  objective.--Association: its rôle reduced to a single
  question, the formation of new combinations.--The principal
  intellectual factor is thinking by analogy. Why it is an
  almost inexhaustible source of creation. Its mechanism. Its
  processes reducible to two, viz.: personification,
  transformation.                                               15



  The great importance of this element.--All forms of the
  creative imagination imply affective elements. Proofs: All
  affective conditions may influence the imagination. Proofs:
  Association of ideas on an emotional basis; new combinations
  under ordinary and extraordinary forms.--Association by
  contrast.--The motor element in tendencies.--There is no
  creative instinct; invention has not _a_ source, but
  _sources_, and always arises from a need.--The work of the
  imagination reduced to two great classes, themselves
  reducible to special needs.--Reasons for the prejudice in
  favor of a creative instinct.                                 31



  Various views of the "inspired state." Its essential
  characteristics; suddenness, impersonality.--Its relations
  to unconscious activity.--Resemblances to hypermnesia, the
  initial state of alcoholic intoxication and somnambulism on
  waking.--Disagreements concerning the ultimate nature of
  unconsciousness: two hypotheses.--The "inspired state" is
  not a cause, but an index.--Associations in unconscious
  form.--Mediate or latent association: recent experiments and
  discussions on this subject.--"Constellation" the result of
  a summation of predominant tendencies. Its mechanism.         50



  Anatomical conditions: various hypotheses. Obscurity of the
  question. Flechsig's theory.--Physiological conditions: are
  they cause, effect, or accompaniment? Chief factor: change
  in cerebral and local circulation.--Attempts at
  experimentation.--The oddities of inventors brought under
  two heads: the explicable and inexplicable. They are helpers
  of inspiration.--Is there any analogy between physical and
  psychic creation? A philosophical hypothesis on the
  subject.--Limitation of the question. Impossibility of an
  exact answer.                                                 65



  Importance of the unifying principle. It is a fixed idea or
  a fixed emotion.--Their equivalence.--Distinction between
  the synthetic principle and the ideal, which is the
  principle of unity in motion: the ideal is a construction in
  images, merely outlined.--The principal forms of the
  unifying principles: unstable, organic or middle, extreme or
  semi-morbid.--Obsession of the inventor and the sick:
  insufficiency of a purely psychological criterion.            79





  Difficulties of the subject.--The degree of imagination in
  animals.--Does creative synthesis exist in them? Affirmation
  and denials.--The special form of animal imagination is
  motor, and shows itself through play: its numerous
  varieties.--Why the animal imagination must be above all
  motor: lack of intellectual development.--Comparison with
  young children, in whom the motor system predominates: the
  rôles of movements in infantile insanity.                     93



  Division of its development into four principal
  periods.--Transition from passive to creative imagination:
  perception and illusion.--Animating everything: analysis of
  the elements constituting this moment: the rôle of
  belief.--Creation in play: period of imitation, attempts at
  invention.--Fanciful invention.                              103



  The golden age of the creative imagination.--Myths:
  hypotheses as to the origin: the myth is the psycho-physical
  objectification of man in the phenomena that he perceives.
  The rôle of imagination.--How myths are formed. The moment
  of creation: two operations--animating everything,
  qualifying everything. Romantic invention lacking in peoples
  without imagination. The rôle of analogy and of association
  through "constellation."--The evolution of myths: ascension,
  acme, decline.--The explanatory myths undergo a radical
  transformation: the work of depersonification of the myth.
  Survivals.--The non-explanatory myths suffer a partial
  transformation: Literature is a fallen and rationalized
  mythology.--Popular imagination and legends: the legend is
  to the myth what illusion is to hallucination.--Unconscious
  processes that the imagination employs in order to create
  legends: fusion, idealization.                               118



  Is a psychology of great inventors possible? Pathological
  and physiological theories of genius.--General characters of
  great inventors. Precocity: chronological order of the
  development of the creative power. Psychological reasons
  for this order. Why the creator commences by
  imitating.--Necessity or fatalism of vocation.--The
  representative character of great creators. Discussion as to
  the origin of this character--is it in the individual or in
  the environment?--Mechanism of creation. Two principal
  processes--complete, abridged. Their three phases; their
  resemblances and differences.--The rôle of chance in
  invention: it supposes the meeting of two factors--one
  internal, the other external.--Chance is an occasion for,
  not an agent of, creation.                                   140



  Is the creative imagination, in its evolution, subject to
  any law?--It passes through two stages separated by a
  critical phase.--Period of autonomy; critical period; period
  of definite constitution. Two cases: decay or transformation
  through logical form, through deviation.--Subsidiary law of
  increasing complexity.--Historical verification.             167




  The need of a concrete study.--The varieties of the creative
  imagination, analogous to the varieties of character.        179



  It makes use of clear images, well determined in space, and
  of associations of objective relations.--Its external
  character.--Inferiority of the affective element.--Its
  principal manifestations: in the arts dealing with form; in
  poetry (transformation of sonorous into visual images); in
  myths with clear outline; in mechanical invention.--The dry
  and rational imagination its elements.                       184



  It makes use of vague images linked according to the least
  rigorous modes of association. Emotional abstractions; their
  nature.--Its characteristic of inwardness.--Its principal
  manifestations: revery, the romantic spirit, the chimerical
  spirit; myths and religious conceptions, literature and the
  fine arts (the symbolists), the class of the marvelous and
  fantastic.--Varieties of the diffluent imagination: first,
  numerical imagination; its nature; two principal forms,
  cosmogonic and scientific conceptions; second, musical
  imagination, the type of the affective imagination. Its
  characteristics; it does not develop save after an interval
  of time.--Natural transposition of events in
  musicians.--Antagonism between true musical imagination and
  plastic imagination. Inquiry and facts on the subject.--Two
  great types of imagination.                                  195



  Its elements; its special characteristics.--Thinking
  symbolically.--Nature of this symbolism.--The mystic changes
  concrete images into symbolic images.--Their obscurity;
  whence it arises.--Extraordinary abuse of analogy.--Mystic
  labor on letters, numbers, etc.--Nature and extent of the
  belief accompanying this form of imagination: it is
  unconditional and permanent.--The mystic conception of the
  world a general symbolism.--Mystic imagination in religion
  and in metaphysics.                                          221



  It is distinguishable into genera and species.--The need for
  monographs that have not yet appeared.--The imagination in
  growing sciences--belief is at its maximum; in the organized
  sciences--the negative rôle of method.--The conjectural
  phase; proof of its importance.--Abortive and dethroned
  hypotheses.--The imagination in the processes of
  verification.--The metaphysician's imagination arises from
  the same need as the scientist's.--Metaphysics is a
  rationalized myth.--Three moments.--Imaginative and
  rationalist.                                                 236



  Indetermination of this imaginative form.--Inferior forms:
  the industrious, the unstable, the eccentric. Why people of
  lively imagination are changeable.--Superstitious beliefs.
  Origin of this form of imagination--its mental mechanism and
  its elements.--The higher form--mechanical imagination.--Man
  has expended at least as much imagination there as in
  esthetic creation.--Why the contrary view
  prevails.--Resemblances between these two forms of
  imagination.--Identity of development. Detail
  observation--four phases.--General characters. This form, at
  its best, supposes inspiration; periods of preparation, of
  maturity, and of decline.--Special characters: invention
  occurs in layers. Principal steps of its development.--It
  depends strictly on physical conditions.--A phase of pure
  imagination--mechanical romances. Examples.--Identical
  nature of the imagination of the mechanic and that of the
  artist.                                                      256



  Its internal and external conditions.--Two classes of
  creators--the cautious, the daring.--The initial moment of
  invention.--The importance of the intuitive
  mind.--Hypotheses in regard to its psychologic nature.--Its
  development: the creation of increasingly more simple
  processes of substitution.--Characters in common with the
  forms of creation already studied.--Characters peculiar to
  it--the combining imagination of the tactician; it is a form
  of war.--Creative intoxication.--Exclusive use of schematic
  representations.--Remarks on the various types of
  images.--The creators of great financial systems.--Brief
  remarks on the military imagination.                         281



  Successive appearances of ideal conceptions.--Creators in
  ethics and in the social realm.--Chimerical forms. Social
  novelists.--Ch. Fourrier, type of the great
  imaginer.--Practical invention--the collective
  ideal.--Imaginative regression.                              299


I. _The foundations of the creative imagination._

  Why man is able to create: two principal
  conditions.--"Creative spontaneity," which resolves itself
  into needs, tendencies, desires.--Every imaginative creation
  has a motor origin.--The spontaneous revival of images.--The
  creative imagination reduced to three forms: outlined,
  fixed, objectified. Their peculiar characteristics.          313

II. _The imaginative type._

  A view of the imaginative life in all its stages.--Reduction
  to a psychologic law.--Four stages characterized: 1, by the
  _quantity_ of images; 2, by their _quantity and intensity_;
  3, by quantity, intensity and duration; 4, by the complete
  and permanent systematization of the imaginary
  life.--Summary.                                              320



  A. The various forms of inspiration.                         335

  B. On the nature of the unconscious factor. Two
  categories--static unconscious, dynamic
  unconscious.--Theories as to the nature of the
  unconscious.--Objections, criticisms.                        338

  C. Cosmic and human imagination.                             346

  D. Evidence in regard to musical imagination.                350

  E. The imaginative type and association of ideas.            353





It has been often repeated that one of the principal conquests of
contemporary psychology is the fact that it has firmly established the
place and importance of movements; that it has especially through
observation and experiment shown the representation of a movement to be
a movement begun, a movement in the nascent state. Yet those who have
most strenuously insisted on this proposition have hardly gone beyond
the realm of the passive imagination; they have clung to facts of pure
reproduction. My aim is to extend their formula, and to show that it
explains, in large measure at least, the origin of the creative

Let us follow step by step the passage from reproduction pure and simple
to the creative stage, showing therein the persistence and preponderance
of the motor element in proportion as we rise from mere repetition to

First of all, do all representations include motor elements? Yes, I
say, because every perception presupposes movements to some extent, and
representations are the remnants of past perceptions. Certain it is
that, without our examining the question in detail, this statement holds
good for the great majority of cases. So far as visual and tactile
images are concerned there is no possible doubt as to the importance of
the motor elements that enter into their composition. The eye is very
poorly endowed with movements for its office as a higher sense-organ;
but if we take into account its intimate connection with the vocal
organs, so rich in capacity for motor combinations, we note a kind of
compensation. Smell and taste, secondary in human psychology, rise to a
very high rank indeed among many animals, and the olfactory apparatus
thus obtains with them a complexity of movements proportionate to its
importance, and one that at times approaches that of sight. There yet
remains the group of internal sensations that might cause discussion.
Setting aside the fact that the vague impressions bound up with chemical
changes within the tissues are scarcely factors in representation, we
find that the sensations resulting from changes in respiration,
circulation, and digestion are not lacking in motor elements. The mere
fact that, in some persons, vomiting, hiccoughs, micturition, etc., can
be caused by perceptions of sight or of hearing proves that
representations of this character have a tendency to become translated
into acts.

Without emphasizing the matter we may, then, say that this thesis rests
on a weighty mass of facts; that the motor element of the image tends to
cause it to lose its purely "inner" character, to objectify it, to
externalize it, to project it outside of ourselves.

It should, however, be noted that what has just been said does not take
us beyond the reproductive imagination--beyond memory. All these revived
images are _repetitions_; but the creative imagination requires
something _new_--this is its peculiar and essential mark. In order to
grasp the transition from reproduction to production, from repetition to
creation, it is necessary to consider other, more rare, and more
extraordinary facts, found only among some favored beings. These facts,
known for a long time, surrounded with some mystery, and attributed in a
vague manner "to the power of the imagination," have been studied in our
own day with much more system and exactness. For our purpose we need to
recall only a few of them.

Many instances have been reported of tingling or of pains that may
appear in different parts of the body solely through the effect of the
imagination. Certain people can increase or inhibit the beating of their
hearts at will, i.e., by means of an intense and persistent
representation. The renowned physiologist, E. F. Weber, possessed this
power, and has described the mechanism of the phenomenon. Still more
remarkable are the cases of vesication produced in hypnotized subjects
by means of suggestion. Finally, let us recall the persistent story of
the stigmatized individuals, who, from the thirteenth century down to
our own day, have been quite numerous and present some interesting
varieties--some having only the mark of the crucifix, others of the
scourging, or of the crown of thorns.[1] Let us add the profound changes
of the organism, results of the suggestive therapeutics of
contemporaries; the wonderful effects of the "faith cure," i.e., the
miracles of all religions in all times and in all places; and this brief
list will suffice to recall certain creative activities of the human
imagination that we have a tendency to forget.

It is proper to add that the image acts not altogether in a positive
manner. Sometimes it has an inhibitory power. A vivid representation of
a movement arrested is the beginning of the stoppage of that movement;
it may even end in complete arrest of the movement. Such are the cases
of "paralysis by ideas" first described by Reynolds, and later by
Charcot and his school under the name of "psychic paralysis." The
patient's inward conviction that he cannot move a limb renders him
powerless for any movement, and he recovers his motor power only when
the morbid representation has disappeared.

These and similar facts suggest a few remarks.

First, that we have here creation in the strict sense of the word,
though it be limited to the organism. What appears is _new_. Though one
may strictly maintain that from our own experience we have a knowledge
of formication, rapid and slow beating of the heart, even though we may
not be able ordinarily to produce them at will, this position is
absolutely untenable when we consider cases of vesication, stigmata, and
other alleged miraculous phenomena: _these are without precedent in the
life of the individual_.

Second, in order that these unusual states may occur, there are required
additional elements in the producing mechanism. At bottom this mechanism
is very obscure. To invoke "the power of the imagination" is merely to
substitute a word where an explanation is needed. Fortunately, we do not
need to penetrate into the inmost part of this mystery. It is enough for
us to make sure of the facts, to prove that they have a representation
as the starting point, and to show that the representation by itself is
not enough. What more then is needed? Let us note first of all that
these occurrences are rare. It is not within the power of everybody to
acquire stigmata or to become cured of a paralysis pronounced incurable.
This happens only to those having an ardent faith, a strong desire _that
it shall come to pass_. This is an indispensable psychic condition. What
is concerned in such a case is not a single state, but a double one: an
image followed by a particular emotional state (desire, aversion, etc.).
In other words, there are two conditions: In the first are concerned the
motor elements included in the image, the remains of previous
perceptions; in the second, there are concerned the foregoing, _plus_
affective states, tendencies that sum up the individual's energy. It is
the latter fact that explains their power.

To conclude: This group of facts shows us the existence, beyond images,
of another factor, instinctive or emotional in form, which we shall have
to study later and which will lead us to the ultimate source of the
creative imagination.

I fear that the distance between the facts here given and the creative
imagination proper will seem to the reader very great indeed. And why
so? First, because the creative activity here has as its only material
the organism, and is not separated from the creator. Then, too, because
these facts are extremely simple, and the creative imagination, in the
ordinary sense, is extremely complex; here there is one operating cause,
a single representation more or less complex, while in imaginative
creation we have several co-operating images with combinations,
coördination, arrangement, grouping. But it must not be forgotten that
our present aim is simply to find _a transition stage_[2] between
reproduction and production; to show the common origin of the two forms
of imagination--the purely representative faculty and the faculty of
creating by means of the intermediation of images;--and to show at the
same time the work of separation, of severance between the two.


Since the chief aim of this study is to prove that the basis of
invention must be sought in motor manifestations, I shall not hesitate
to dwell on it, and I take the subject up again under another, clearer,
more precise, and more psychological form, in putting the following
question: Which one among the various modes of mind-activity offers the
closest analogy to the creative imagination? I unhesitatingly answer,
_voluntary activity_: Imagination, in the intellectual order, is the
equivalent of will in the realm of movements. Let us justify this
comparison by some proof.

1. Likeness of development in the two instances. Growth of voluntary
control is progressive, slow, crossed and checked. The individual has to
become master of his muscles and by their agency extend his sway over
other things. Reflexes, instinctive movements, and movements expressive
of emotion constitute the primary material of voluntary movements. The
will has no movements of its own as an inheritance: it must coördinate
and associate, since it separates in order to form new associations. It
reigns by right of conquest, not by right of birth. In like manner, the
creative imagination does not rise completely armed. Its raw materials
are images, which here correspond to muscular movements. It goes through
a period of trial. It always is, at the start (for reasons indicated
later on), an imitation; it attains its complex forms only through a
process of growth.

2. But this first comparison does not go to the bottom of the matter;
there are yet deeper analogies. First, the completely subjective
character of both instances. The imagination is subjective, personal,
anthropocentric; its movement is from within outwards toward an
objectification. The understanding, i.e., the intellect in the
restricted sense, has opposite characteristics--it is objective,
impersonal, receives from outside. For the creative imagination the
inner world is the regulator; there is a preponderance of the inner over
the outer. For the understanding, the outside world is the regulator;
there is a preponderance of the outer over the inner. The world of my
imagination is _my_ world as opposed to the world of my understanding,
which is the world of all my fellow creatures. On the other hand, as
regards the will, we might repeat exactly, word for word, what we have
just said of the imagination. This is unnecessary. Back of both, then,
we have our true cause, whatever may be our opinion concerning the
ultimate nature of causation and of will.

3. Both imagination and will have a teleological character, and act only
with a view toward an end, being thus the opposite of the understanding,
which, as such, limits itself to proof. We are always wanting something,
be it worthless or important. We are always inventing for an
end--whether in the case of a Napoleon imagining a plan of campaign, or
a cook making up a new dish. In both instances there is now a simple end
attained by immediate means, now a complex and distant goal
presupposing subordinate ends which are means in relation to the final
end. In both cases there is a _vis a tergo_ designated by the vague term
"spontaneity," which we shall attempt to make clear later, and a _vis a
fronte_, an attracting movement.

4. Added to this analogy as regards their nature, there are other,
secondary likenesses between the abortive forms of the creative
imagination and the impotent forms of the will. In its normal and
complete form will culminates in an act; but with wavering characters
and sufferers from abulia deliberation never ends, or the resolution
remains inert, incapable of realization, of asserting itself in
practice. The creative imagination also, in its complete form, has a
tendency to become objectified, to assert itself in a work that shall
exist not only for the creator but for everybody. On the contrary, with
dreamers pure and simple, the imagination remains a vaguely sketched
inner affair; it is not embodied in any esthetic or practical invention.
Revery is the equivalent of weak desires; dreamers are the abulics of
the creative imagination.

It is unnecessary to add that the similarity established here between
the will and the imagination is only partial and has as its aim only to
bring to light the rôle of the motor elements. Surely no one will
confuse two aspects of our psychic life that are so distinct, and it
would be foolish to delay in order to enumerate the differences. The
characteristic of novelty should by itself suffice, since it is the
special and indispensable mark of invention, and for volition is only
accessory: The extraction of a tooth requires of the patient as much
effort the second time as the first, although it is no longer a novelty.

After these preliminary remarks we must go on to the analysis of the
creative imagination, in order to understand its nature in so far as
that is accessible with our existing means. It is, indeed, a tertiary
formation in mental life, if we assume a primary layer (sensations and
simple emotions), and a secondary (images and their associations,
certain elementary logical operations, etc.). Being composite, it may be
decomposed into its constituent elements, which we shall study under
these three headings, viz., the intellectual factor, the affective or
emotional factor, and the unconscious factor. But that is not enough;
the analysis should be completed by a synthesis. All imaginative
creation, great or small, is organic, requires a unifying principle:
there is then also a synthetic factor, which it will be necessary to


[1] A. Maury, in his book _L'Astronomie et la Magie_, enumerates
fifty cases.

[2] There are still others, as we shall see later on.






Considered under its intellectual aspect, that is, in so far as it
borrows its elements from the understanding, the imagination presupposes
two fundamental operations--the one, negative and preparatory,
dissociation; the other, positive and constitutive, association.

Dissociation is the "abstraction" of the older psychologists, who well
understood its importance for the subject with which we are now
concerned. Nevertheless, the term "dissociation" seems to me preferable,
because it is more comprehensive. It designates a genus of which the
other is a species. It is a spontaneous operation and of a more radical
nature than the other. Abstraction, strictly so-called, acts only on
isolated states of consciousness; dissociation acts, further, on series
of states of consciousness, which it sorts out, breaks up, dissolves,
and through this preparatory work makes suitable for entering into new

Perception is a synthetic process, but dissociation (or abstraction) is
already present in embryo in perception, just because the latter is a
complex state. Everyone perceives after an individual fashion, according
to his constitution and the impression of the moment. A painter, a
sportsman, a dealer, and an uninterested spectator do not see a given
horse in the same manner: the qualities that interest one are unnoticed
by another.[3]

The image being a simplification of sensory data, and its nature
dependent on that of previous perceptions, it is inevitable that the
work of dissociation should go on in it. But this is far too mild a
statement. Observation and experiment show us that in the majority of
cases the process grows wonderfully. In order to follow the progressive
development of this dissolution, we may roughly differentiate images
into three categories--complete, incomplete, and schematic--and study
them in order.

The group of images here termed _complete_ comprises first, objects
repeatedly presented in daily experience--my wife's face, my inkstand,
the sound of a church bell or of a neighboring clock, etc. In this class
are also included the images of things that we have perceived but a few
times, but which, for additional reasons, have remained clean-cut in our
memory. Are these images complete, in the strict sense of the word? They
cannot be; and the contrary belief is a delusion of consciousness that,
however, disappears when one confronts it with the reality. The mental
image can contain all the qualities of an object in even less degree
than the perception; the image is the result of selection, varying with
every case. The painter Fromentin, who was proud that he found after two
or three years "an exact recollection" of things he had barely noticed
on a journey, makes elsewhere, however, the following confession: "My
memory of things, although very faithful, has never the certainty
admissible as documentary evidence. The weaker it grows, the more is it
changed in becoming the property of my memory and the more valuable is
it for the work that I intend for it. In proportion as the exact form
becomes altered, another form, partly real, partly imaginary, which I
believe preferable, takes its place." Note that the person speaking thus
is a painter endowed with an unusual visual memory; but recent
investigations have shown that among men generally the so-called
complete and exact images undergo change and warping. One sees the truth
of this statement when, after a lapse of some time, one is placed in the
presence of the original object, so that comparison between the real
object and its image becomes possible.[4] Let us note that in this group
_the image always corresponds to certain individual objects_; it is not
the same with the other two groups.

The group of _incomplete_ images, according to the testimony of
consciousness itself, comes from two distinct sources--first, from
perceptions insufficiently or ill-fixed; and again, from impressions of
like objects which, when too often repeated, end by becoming confused.
The latter case has been well described by Taine. A man, says he, who,
having gone through an avenue of poplars wants to picture a poplar; or,
having looked into a poultry-yard, wishes to call up a picture of a hen,
experiences a difficulty--his different memories rise up. The experiment
becomes a cause of effacement; the images canceling one another decline
to a state of imperceptible tendencies which their likeness and
unlikeness prevent from predominating. Images become blunted by their
collision just as do bodies by friction.[5]

This group leads us to that of _schematic_ images, or those entirely
without mark--the indefinite image of a rosebush, of a pin, of a
cigarette, etc. This is the greatest degree of impoverishment; the
image, deprived little by little of its own characteristics, is nothing
more than a shadow. It has become that transitional form between image
and pure concept that we now term "generic image," or one that at least
resembles the latter.

The image, then, is subject to an unending process of change, of
suppression and addition, of dissociation and corrosion. This means
that it is not a dead thing; it is not at all like a photographic plate
with which one may reproduce copies indefinitely. Being dependent on the
state of the brain, the image undergoes change like all living
substance,--it is subject to gains and losses, especially losses. But
each of the foregoing three classes has its use for the inventor. They
serve as material for different kinds of imagination--in their concrete
form, for the mechanic and the artist; in their schematic form, for the
scientist and for others.

Thus far we have seen only a part of the work of dissociation and,
taking it all in all, the smallest part. We have, seemingly, considered
images as isolated facts, as psychic atoms; but that is a purely
theoretic position. Images are not solitary in actual life; they form
part of a chain, or rather of a woof or net, since, by reason of their
manifold relations they may radiate in all directions, through all the
senses. Dissociation, then, works also upon _series_, cuts them up,
mangles them, breaks them, and reduces them to ruins.

The ideal law of the recurrence of images is that known since Hamilton's
time under the name of "law of redintegration,"[6] which consists in the
passing from a part to the whole, each element tending to reproduce the
complete state, each member of a series the whole of that series. If
this law existed alone, invention would be forever forbidden to us; we
could not emerge from repetition; we should be condemned to monotony.
But there is an opposite power that frees us--it is dissociation.

It is very strange that, while psychologists have for so long a time
studied the laws of association, no one has investigated whether the
inverse process, dissociation, also has not laws of its own. We can not
here attempt such a task, which would be outside of our province; it
will suffice to indicate in passing two general conditions determining
the association of series.

First, there are the internal or subjective causes. The revived image of
a face, a monument, a landscape, an occurrence, is, most often, only
partial. It depends on various conditions that revive the essential part
and drop the minor details, and this "essential" which survives
dissociation depends on subjective causes, the principal ones of which
are at first practical, utilitarian reasons. It is the tendency already
mentioned to ignore what is of no value, to exclude that from
consciousness. Helmholtz has shown that in the act of seeing, various
details remain unnoticed because they are immaterial in the concerns of
life; and there are many other like instances. Then, too, emotional
reasons governing the attention orientate it exclusively in one
direction--these will be studied in the course of this work. Lastly,
there are logical or intellectual reasons, if we understand by this term
the law of mental inertia or the law of least resistance by means of
which the mind tends toward the simplification and lightening of its

Secondly, there are external or objective causes which are variations in
experience. When two or more qualities or events are given as constantly
associated in experience we do not dissociate them. The uniformity of
nature's laws is the great opponent of dissociation. Many truths (for
example, the existence of the antipodes) are established with
difficulty, because it is necessary to break up closely knit
associations. The oriental king whom Sully mentions, who had never seen
ice, refused to credit the existence of solid water. A total impression,
the elements of which had never been given us separately in experience,
would be unanalyzable. If all cold objects were moist, and all moist
objects cold; if all liquids were transparent and all non-liquids
opaque, we should find it difficult to distinguish cold from moisture
and liquidity from transparency. On his part, James adds further that
what has been associated sometimes with one thing and sometimes with
another tends to become dissociated from both. This might be called a
law of association by concomitant variations.[7]

In order to thoroughly comprehend the absolute necessity for
dissociation, let us note that total redintegration is _per se_ a
hindrance to creation. Examples are given of people who can easily
remember twenty or thirty pages of a book, but if they want a particular
passage they are unable to pick it out--they must begin at the beginning
and continue down to the required place. Excessive ease of retention
thus becomes a serious inconvenience. Besides these rare cases, we know
that ignorant people, those intellectually limited, give the same
invariable story of every occurrence, in which all the parts--the
important and the accessory, the useful and the useless--are on a dead
level. They omit no detail, they cannot select. Minds of this kind are
inapt at invention. In short, we may say that there are two kinds of
memory: one is completely systematized, e.g., habits, routine, poetry
or prose learned by heart, faultless musical rendering, etc. The
acquisition forms a compact whole and cannot enter into new
combinations. The other is not systematized; it is composed of small,
more or less coherent groups. This kind of memory is plastic and capable
of becoming combined in new ways.

We have enumerated the spontaneous, natural causes of association,
omitting the voluntary and artificial causes, which are but their
imitations. As a result of these various causes, images are taken to
pieces, shattered, broken up, but made all the readier as materials for
the inventor. This is a process analogous to that which, in geologic
time, produces new strata through the wearing away of old rocks.


Association is one of the big questions of psychology; but as it does
not especially concern our subject, it will be discussed in strict
proportion to its use here. Nothing is easier than limiting ourselves.
Our task is reducible to a very clear and very brief question: What are
the forms of association that give rise to new combinations and under
what influences do they arise? All other forms of association, those
that are only repetitions, should be eliminated. Consequently, this
subject can not be treated in one single effort; it must be studied, in
turn, in its relations to our three factors--intellectual, emotional,

It is generally admitted that the expression "association of ideas" is
faulty.[8] It is not comprehensive enough, association being active also
in psychic states other than ideas. It seems indicative rather of mere
juxtaposition, whereas associated states modify one another by the very
fact of their being connected. But, as it has been confirmed by long
usage, it would be difficult to eliminate the phrase.

On the other hand, psychologists are not at all agreed as regards the
determination of the principal laws or forms of association. Without
taking sides in the debate, I adopt the most generally accepted
classification, the one most suitable for our subject--the one that
reduces everything to the two fundamental laws of contiguity and
resemblance. In recent years various attempts have been made to reduce
these two laws to one, some reducing resemblance to contiguity; others,
contiguity to resemblance. Putting aside the ground of this discussion,
which seems to me very useless, and which perhaps is due to excessive
zeal for unity, we must nevertheless recognize that this discussion is
not without interest for the study of the creative imagination, because
it has well shown that each of the two fundamental laws has a
characteristic mechanism.

Association by contiguity (or continuity), which Wundt calls external,
is simple and homogeneous. It reproduces the order and connection of
things; it reduces itself to habits contracted by our nervous system.

Is association by resemblance, which Wundt calls internal, strictly
speaking, an elementary law? Many doubt it. Without entering into the
long and frequently confused discussions to which this subject has given
rise, we may sum up their results as follows: In so-called association
by resemblance it is necessary to distinguish three moments--(a) That of
the presentation; a state _A_ is given in perception or
association-by-contiguity, and forms the starting point. (b) That of the
work of assimilation; _A_ is recognized as more or less like a state _a_
previously experienced. (c) As a consequence of the coëxistence of _A_
and _a_ in consciousness, they can later be recalled reciprocally,
although the two original occurrences _A_ and _a_ have previously never
existed together, and sometimes, indeed, may not possibly have existed
together. It is evident that the crucial moment is the second, and that
it consists of an act of active assimilation. Thus James maintains that
"it is a relation that the mind perceives after the fact, just as it may
perceive the relations of superiority, of distance, of causality, of
container and content, of substance and accident, or of contrast between
an object, and some second object which the associative machinery calls

Association by resemblance presupposes a joint labor of association and
dissociation--it is an active form. Consequently it is the principal
source of the material of the creative imagination, as the sequel of
this work will sufficiently show.

After this rather long but necessary preface, we come to the
intellectual factor rightly so termed, which we have been little by
little approaching. The essential, fundamental element of the creative
imagination in the intellectual sphere is the capacity of thinking by
analogy; that is, by partial and often accidental resemblance. By
analogy we mean an imperfect kind of resemblance: like is a genus of
which analogue is a species.

Let us examine in some detail the mechanism of this mode of thought in
order that we may understand how analogy is, by its very nature, an
almost inexhaustible instrument of creation.

1. Analogy may be based solely on the _number of attributes compared_.
Let _a b c d e f_ and _r s t u d v_ be two beings or objects, each
letter representing symbolically one of the constitutive attributes. It
is evident that the analogy between the two is very weak, since there is
only one common element, _d_. If the number of the elements common to
both increases, the analogy will grow in the same proportion. But the
agreement represented above is not infrequent among minds unused to a
somewhat severe discipline. A child sees in the moon and stars a mother
surrounded by her daughters. The aborigines of Australia called a book
"mussel," merely because it opens and shuts like the valves of a

2. Analogy may have for its basis the _quality_ or _value_ of the
compound attributes. It rests on a variable element, which oscillates
from the essential to the accidental, from the reality to the
appearance. To the layman, the likeness between cetacians and fishes are
great; to the scientist, slight. Here, again, numerous agreements are
possible, provided one take no account either of their solidity or their

3. Lastly, in minds without power, there occurs a semi-unconscious
operation that we may call a transfer through the omission of the middle
term. There is analogy between _a b c d e_ and _g h a i f_ through the
common letter _a_; between _g h a i f_ and _x y f z q_ through the
common letter _f_; and finally an analogy becomes established between _a
b c d e_ and _x y f z q_ for no other reason than that of their common
analogy with _g h a i f_. In the realm of the affective states,
transfers of this sort are not at all rare.

Analogy, an unstable process, undulating and multiform, gives rise to
the most unforeseen and novel groupings. Through its pliability, which
is almost unlimited, it produces in equal measure absurd comparisons and
very original inventions.

After these remarks on the mechanism of thinking by analogy, let us
glance at the processes it employs in its creative work. The problem is,
apparently, inextricable. Analogies are so numerous, so various, so
arbitrary, that we may despair of finding any regularity whatever in
creative work. Despite this it seems, however, reducible to two
principal types or processes, which are personification, and
transformation or metamorphosis.

Personification is the earlier process. It is radical, always identical
with itself, but transitory. It goes out from ourselves toward other
things. It consists in attributing life to everything, in supposing in
everything that shows signs of life--and even in inanimate
objects--desires, passions, and acts of will analogous to ours, acting
like ourselves in view of definite ends. This state of mind is
incomprehensible to an adult civilized man; but it must be admitted,
since there are facts without number that show its existence. We do not
need to cite them--they are too well known. They fill the works of
ethnologists, of travelers in savage lands, of books of mythology.
Besides, all of us, at the commencement of our lives, during our
earliest childhood, have passed through this inevitable stage of
universal animism. Works on child-psychology abound in observations that
leave no possible room for doubt on this point. The child endows
everything with life, and he does so the more in proportion as he is
more imaginative. But this stage, which among civilized people lasts
only a brief period, remains in the primitive man a permanent
disposition and one that is always active. This process of
personification is the perennial fount whence have gushed the greater
number of myths, an enormous mass of superstitions, and a large number
of esthetic productions. To sum up in a word, all things that have been
invented _ex analogia hominis_.

Transformation or metamorphosis is a general, permanent process under
many forms, proceeding not from the thinking subject towards objects,
but from one object to another, from one thing to another. It consists
of a transfer through partial resemblance. This operation rests on two
fundamental bases--depending at one time on vague resemblances (a cloud
becomes a mountain, or a mountain a fantastic animal; the sound of the
wind a plaintive cry, etc.), or again, on a resemblance with a
predominating emotional element: A perception provokes a feeling, and
becomes the mark, sign, or plastic form thereof (the lion represents
courage; the cat, artifice; the cypress, sorrow; and so on). All this,
doubtless, is erroneous or arbitrary; but the function of the
imagination is to invent, not to perceive. All know that this process
creates metaphors, allegories, symbols; it should not, however, be
believed on that account that it remains restricted to the realm of art
or of the development of language. We meet it every moment in practical
life, in mechanical, industrial, commercial, and scientific invention,
and we shall, later, give a large number of examples in support of this

Let us note, briefly, that analogy, as an imperfect form of
resemblance--as was said above, if we assume among the objects compared a
totality of likenesses and differences in varying proportions--necessarily
allows all degrees. At one end of the scale, the comparison is made
between valueless or exaggerated likenesses. At the other end, analogy is
restricted to exact resemblance; it approaches cognition, strictly so
called; for example, in mechanical and scientific invention. Hence it is
not at all surprising that the imagination is often a substitute for, and
as Goethe expressed it, "a forerunner of," reason. Between the creative
imagination and rational investigation there is a community of
nature--both presuppose the ability of seizing upon likenesses. On the
other hand, the predominance of the exact process establishes from the
outset a difference between "thinkers" and imaginative dreamers


[3] Cf. the well-known aphorism, "_Apperception ist alles_." (Tr.)

[4] See especially J. Philippe, "La déformation et les
transformations des images" in _Revue Philosophique_, May and
November, 1897. Although these investigations had in view only
visual representations, it is not at all doubtful that the results
hold good for others, especially those of hearing (voice, song,

[5] _On Intelligence_, Vol. I, Bk. ii, Chap. 2.

[6] In his recent history of the theories of the imagination, _La
psicologia dell' immaginazione, nella storia filosofia_ (Rome, 1898)
Ambrosi shows that this law is found already formulated in the
_Psychologia Empirica_ of Christian Wolff [d. 1754]: "_Perceptio
præterita integra recurrit cujus præsens continet partem._"

[7] Sully, _Human Mind_, I, p. 365; James, _Psychology_, I, p. 502.

[8] For a good criticism of the term, consult Titchener, _Outlines
of Psychology_ (New York, 1896), p. 190.

[9] For the discussions on the reduction to a unity, a detailed
bibliography will be found in Jodl, _Lehrbuch der Psychologie_
(Stuttgart, 1896), p. 490. On the comparison of the two laws, James,
_op. cit._, I, 590; Sully, _op. cit._, I, 331 ff; Höffding,
_Psychologie_, 213 ff. (Eng. ed. _Outlines of Psychology_, pp. 152

[10] Note here a characteristically naïve working of the primitive
intellect in explaining the unknown in terms of the known. Cf. Part
II, Chap. iii, below. (Tr.)

[11] It is yet, and will probably long remain, an open question
whether we can draw any clear distinction between the two kinds of
mind here discussed. The author is careful to base his distinction
on the "predominance" of the "rational" or of the "imaginative"
process. So-called "thinkers," who _do_ nothing, can not, certainly,
be ranked with the persons of great intellectual attainment through
whose efforts the progress of the world is made; on the other hand,
the author seeks to make _results_ or accomplishments the crucial
test of true imagination (see Introduction).

As regards the relative value or rank of the two bents of mind there
has ever been, and probably forever will be, great difference of
opinion. Even in this intensely "practical" age there is an
undercurrent of feeling that the narrowly "practical" individual is
not the final ideal, and the innermost conviction of many is the
same as that of the poet who declares that "a dreamer lives forever,
but a thinker dies in a day." (Tr.)



The influence of emotional states on the working of the imagination is a
matter of current observation. But it has been studied chiefly by
moralists, who most often have criticised or condemned it as an endless
cause of mistakes. The point of view of the psychologist is altogether
different. He does not need at all to investigate whether emotions and
passions give rise to mental phantoms--which is an indisputable
fact--but _why_ and _how_ they arise. For, the emotional factor yields
in importance to no other; it is the ferment without which no creation
is possible. Let us study it in its principal forms, although we may not
be able at this moment to exhaust the topic.


It is necessary to show at the outset that the influence of the
emotional life is unlimited, that it penetrates the entire field of
invention with no restriction whatever; that this is not a gratuitous
assertion, but is, on the contrary, strictly justified by facts, and
that we are right in maintaining the following two propositions:

1. _All forms of the creative imagination imply elements of feeling._

This statement has been challenged by authoritative psychologists, who
hold that "emotion is added to imagination in its esthetic aspect, not
in its mechanical and intellectual form." This is an error of fact
resulting from the confusion, or from the imperfect analysis, of two
distinct cases. In the case of non-esthetic creation, the rôle of the
emotional life is simple; in esthetic creation, the rôle of emotional
element is double.

Let us consider invention, first, in its most general form. The
emotional element is the primal, original factor; for all invention
presupposes a want, a craving, a tendency, an unsatisfied impulse, often
even a state of gestation full of discomfort. Moreover, it is
concomitant, that is, under its form of pleasure or of pain, of hope, of
spite, of anger, etc., it accompanies all the phases or turns of
creation. The creator may, haphazard, go through the most diverse forms
of exaltation and depression; may feel in turn the dejection of repulse
and the joy of success; finally the satisfaction of being freed from a
heavy burden. I challenge anyone to produce a solitary example of
invention wrought out _in abstracto_, and free from any factors of
feeling. Human nature does not allow such a miracle.

Now, let us take up the special case of esthetic creation, and of forms
approaching thereto. Here again we find the original emotional element
as at first motor, then attached to various aspects of creation, as an
accompaniment. But, _in addition, affective states become material for
the creative activity_. It is a well-known fact, almost a rule, that the
poet, the novelist, the dramatist, and the musician--often, indeed, even
the sculptor and the painter--experience the thoughts and feeling of
their characters, become identified with them. There are, then, in this
second instance, two currents of feeling--the one, constituting emotion
as material for art, the other, drawing out creative activity and
developing along with it.

The difference between the two cases that we have distinguished consists
in this and nothing more than this. The existence of an emotion-content
belonging to esthetic production changes in no way the psychologic
mechanism of invention generally. Its absence in other forms of
imagination does not at all prevent the necessary existence of affective
elements everywhere and always.

2. _All emotional dispositions whatever may influence the creative

Here, again, I find opponents, notably Oelzelt-Newin, in his short and
substantial monograph on the imagination.[12] Adopting the twofold
division of emotions as sthenic and asthenic, or exciting and
depressing, he attributes to the first the exclusive privilege of
influencing creative activity; but though the author limits his study
exclusively to the esthetic imagination, his thesis, even understood
thus, is untenable. The facts contradict it completely, and it is easy
to demonstrate that all forms of emotion, without exception, act as
leaven for imagination.

No one will deny that fear is the type of asthenic manifestations. Yet
is it not the mother of phantoms, of numberless superstitions, of
altogether irrational and chimerical religious practices?

Anger, in its exalted, violent form, is rather an agent of destruction,
which seems to contradict my thesis; but let us pass over the storm,
which is always of short duration, and we find in its place milder
intellectualized forms, which are various modifications of primitive
fury, passing from the acute to the chronic state: envy, jealousy,
enmity, premeditated vengeance, and so forth. Are not these dispositions
of the mind fertile in artifices, stratagems, inventions of all kinds?
To keep even to esthetic creation, is it necessary to recall the saying
_facit indignatio versum_?

It is not necessary to demonstrate the fecundity of joy. As for love,
everyone knows that its work consists of creating an imaginary being,
which is substituted for the beloved object; then, when the passion has
vanished, the disenchanted lover finds himself face to face with the
bare reality.

Sorrow rightly belongs in the category of depressing emotions, and yet,
it has as great influence on invention as any other emotion. Do we not
know that melancholy and even profound sorrow has furnished poets,
musicians, painters, and sculptors with their most beautiful
inspirations? Is there not an art frankly and deliberately pessimistic?
And this influence is not at all limited to esthetic creation. Dare we
hold that hypochondria and insanity following upon the delirium of
persecution are devoid of imagination? Their morbid character is, on the
contrary, the well whence strange inventions incessantly bubble.

Lastly, that complex emotion termed "self-feeling," which reduces itself
finally to the pleasure of asserting our power and of feeling its
expansion, or to the pitiable feeling of our shackled, enfeebled power,
leads us directly to the motor elements that are the fundamental
conditions of invention. Above all, in this personal feeling, there is
the satisfaction of being a causal factor, i.e., a creator, and every
creator has a consciousness of his superiority over non-creators.
However petty his invention, it confers upon him a superiority over
those who have invented nothing. Although we have been surfeited with
the repeated statement that the characteristic mark of esthetic creation
is "being disinterested," it must be recognized, as Groos has so truly
remarked,[13] that the artist does not create out of the simple pleasure
of creating, but in order that he may behold a mastery over other
minds.[14] Production is the natural extension of "self-feeling," and
the accompanying pleasure is the pleasure of conquest.

Thus, on condition that we extend "imagination" to its full sense,
without limiting it unduly to esthetics, there is, among the many forms
of the emotional life, not one that may not stimulate invention. It
remains to see this emotional factor at work,--to note how it can give
rise to new combinations; and this brings us to the association of


We have said above that the ideal and theoretic law of the recurrence of
images is that of "total redintegration," as e.g., recalling all the
incidents of a long voyage in chronological order, with neither
additions nor omissions. But this formula expresses what ought to be,
not what actually occurs. It supposes man reduced to a state of pure
intelligence, and sheltered from all disturbing influences. It suits the
completely systematized forms of memory, hardened into routine and
habit; but, outside of these cases, it remains an abstract concept.

To this law of ideal value, there is opposed the real and practical law
that actually obtains in the revival of images. It is rightly styled the
"law of interest" or the affective law, and may be stated thus: In every
past event the interesting parts alone revive, or with more intensity
than the others. "Interesting" here means _what affects us in some way
under a pleasing or painful form_. Let us note that the importance of
this fact has been pointed out not by the associationists (a fact
especially worth remembering) but by less systematic writers, strangers
to that school,--Coleridge, Shadworth Hodgson, and before them,
Schopenhauer. William James calls it the "ordinary or mixed
association."[15] The "law of interest" doubtless is less exact than the
intellectual laws of contiguity and resemblance. Nevertheless, it seems
to penetrate all the more in later reasoning. If, indeed, in the problem
of association we distinguish these three things--facts, laws,
causes--the practical law brings us near to causes.

Whatever the truth may be in this matter, the emotional factor brings
about new combinations by several processes.

There are the ordinary, simple cases, with a natural, emotional
foundation, depending on momentary dispositions. They exist because of
the fact that representations that have been accompanied by the same
emotional state tend later to become associated: the emotional
resemblance reunites and links disparate images. This differs from
association by contiguity, which is a repetition of experience, and from
association by resemblance in the intellectual sense. The states of
consciousness become combined, not because they have been previously
given together, not because we perceive the agreement of resemblance
between them, but because they have a common _emotional_ note. Joy,
sorrow, love, hatred, admiration, ennui, pride, fatigue, etc., may
become a center of attraction that groups images or events having
otherwise no rational relations between them, but having the same
emotional stamp,--joyous, melancholy, erotic, etc. This form of
association is very frequent in dreams and reveries, i.e., in a state
of mind in which the imagination enjoys complete freedom and works
haphazard. We easily see that this influence, active or latent, of the
emotional factor, must cause entirely unexpected grouping to arise, and
offers an almost unlimited field for novel combinations, the number of
images having a common emotional factor being very great.

There are unusual and remarkable cases with an exceptional emotional
base. Of such is "colored hearing." We know that several hypotheses have
been offered in regard to the origin of this phenomenon.
Embryologically, it would seem to be the result of an incomplete
separation between the sense of sight and that of hearing, and the
survival, it is said, from a distant period of humanity, when this state
must have been the rule; anatomically, the result of supposed
anastamoses between the cerebral centers for visual and auditory
sensations; physiologically, the result of nervous irradiation;
psychologically, the result of association. This latter hypothesis seems
to account for the greater number of instances, if not for all; but, as
Flournoy has observed, it is a matter of "affective" imagination. Two
sensations absolutely unlike (for instance, the color blue and the
sound _i_) may resemble one another through the equal retentive quality
that they possess in the organism of some favored individuals, and this
emotional factor becomes a bond of association. Observe that this
hypothesis explains also the much more unusual cases of "colored" smell,
taste, and pain; that is, an abnormal association between given colors
and tastes, smells, or pains.

Although we meet them only as exceptional cases, these modes of
association are susceptible to analysis, and seem clear, almost
self-evident, if we compare them with other, subtle, refined, barely
perceptible cases, the origin of which is a subject for supposition, for
guessing rather than for clear comprehension. It is, moreover, a sort of
imagination belonging to very few people: certain artists and some
eccentric or unbalanced minds, scarcely ever found outside the esthetic
or practical life. I wish to speak of the forms of invention that permit
only fantastic conceptions, of a strangeness pushed to the extreme
(Hoffman, Poe, Baudelaire, Goya, Wiertz, etc.), or surprising,
extraordinary thoughts, known of no other men (the symbolists and
decadents that flourish at the present time in various countries of
Europe and America, who believe, rightly or wrongly, that they are
preparing the esthetics of the future). It must be here admitted that
there exists an altogether special manner of _feeling_, dependent on
temperament at first, which many cultivate and refine as though it were
a precious rarity. There lies the true source of their invention.
Doubtless, to assert this pertinently, it would be necessary to
establish the direct relations between their physical and psychical
constitution and that of their work; to note even the particular states
at the moment of the creative act. To me at least, it seems evident that
the novelty, the strangeness of combinations, through its deep
subjective character, indicates an emotional rather than an intellectual
origin. Let us merely add that these abnormal manifestations of the
creative imagination belong to the province of pathology rather than to
that of psychology.

Association by contrast is, from its very nature, vague, arbitrary,
indeterminate. It rests, in truth, on an essentially subjective and
fleeting conception, that of contrariety, which it is almost impossible
to delimit scientifically; for, most often, contraries exist only by and
for us. We know that this form of association is not primary and
irreducible. It is brought down by some to contiguity, by most others to
resemblance. These two views do not seem to me irreconcilable. In
association by contrast we may distinguish two layers,--the one,
superficial, consists of contiguity: all of us have in memory associated
couples, such as large-small, rich-poor, high-low, right-left, etc.,
which result from repetition and habit; the other, deep, is resemblance;
_contrast exists only where a common measure between two terms is
possible_. As Wundt remarks, a wedding may be compared to a burial (the
union and separation of a couple), but not to a toothache. There is
contrast between two colors, contrast between sounds, but not between a
sound and a color, at least in that there may not be a common basis to
which we may relate them, as in the previously given instances of
"colored" sound. In association by contrast, there are conscious
elements opposed to one another, and below, an unconscious element,
resemblance,--not clearly and logically perceived, but felt--that evokes
and relates the conscious elements.

Whether this explanation be right or not, let us remark that association
by contrast could not be left out, because its mechanism, full of
unforeseen possibilities, lends itself easily to novel relations.
Otherwise, I do not at all claim that it is entirely dependent upon the
emotional factor. But, as Höffding observes,[16] the special property of
the emotional life is moving among contraries; it is altogether
determined by the great opposition between pleasure and pain. Thus, the
effects of contrasts are much stronger than in the realm of sensation.
This form of association predominates in esthetic and mythic creation,
that is to say, in creation of the free fancy; it becomes dimmed in the
precise forms of practical, mechanical, and scientific invention.


Hitherto we have considered the emotional factor under a single aspect
only--the purely emotional--that which is manifested in consciousness
under an agreeable or disagreeable or mixed form. But thoughts,
feelings, and emotions include elements that are deeper--motor, i.e.,
impulsive or inhibitory--which we may neglect the less since it is in
movements that we seek the origin of the creative imagination. This
motor element is what current speech and often even psychological
treatises designate under the terms "creative instinct," "inventive
instinct;" what we express in another form when we say that creators are
guided by instinct and "are pushed like animals toward the
accomplishment of certain acts."

If I mistake not, this indicates that the "creative instinct" exists in
all men to some extent--feeble in some, perceptible in others, brilliant
in the great inventors.

For I do not hesitate to maintain that the creative instinct, taken in
this strict meaning, compared to animal instinct, is a mere figure of
speech, an "entity" regarded as a reality, an abstraction. There are
needs, appetites, tendencies, desires, common to all men, which, in a
given individual at a given moment can result in a creative act; but
there is no special psychic manifestation that may be the "creative
instinct." What, indeed, could it be? Every instinct has its own
particular end:--hunger, thirst, sex, the specific instincts of the bee,
ant, beaver, consist of a group of movements adapted for a determinate
end that is always the same. Now, what would be a creative instinct _in
general_ which, by hypothesis, could produce in turn an opera, a
machine, a metaphysical theory, a system of finance, a plan of military
campaign, and so forth? It is a pure fancy. Inventive genius has not _a_
source, but _sources_.

Let us consider from our present viewpoint the human duality, the _homo

Suppose man reduced to a state of pure intelligence, that is, capable of
perceiving, remembering, associating, dissociating, reasoning, and
nothing else. All creative activity is then impossible, because there is
nothing to solicit it.

Suppose, again, man reduced to organic manifestations; he is then no
more than a bundle of wants, appetites, instincts,--that is, of motor
activities, blind forces that, lacking a sufficient cerebral organ, will
produce nothing.

The coöperation of both these factors is indispensable: without the
first, nothing begins; without the second, nothing results. I hold that
it is in needs that we must seek for the primary cause of all
inventions; it is evident that the motor element alone is insufficient.
If the needs are strong, energetic, they may determine a production, or,
if the intellectual factor is insufficient, may spoil it. Many want to
make discoveries but discover nothing. A want so common as hunger or
thirst suggests to one some ingenious method of satisfying it; another
remains entirely destitute.

In short, in order that a creative act occur, there is required, first,
a need; then, that it arouse a combination of images; and lastly, that
it objectify and _realize_ itself in an appropriate form.

We shall try later (in the Conclusion) to answer the question, _Why_ is
one imaginative? In passing, let us put the opposite question, Why is
one _not_ imaginative? One may possess in the mind an inexhaustible
treasure of facts and images and yet produce nothing: great travelers,
for example, who have seen and heard much, and who draw from their
experiences only a few colorless anecdotes; men who were partakers in
great political events or military movements, who leave behind only a
few dry and chilly memoirs; prodigies of reading, living encyclopedias,
who remain crushed under the load of their erudition. On the other hand,
there are people who easily move and act, but are limited, lacking
images and ideas. Their intellectual poverty condemns them to
unproductiveness; nevertheless, being nearer than the others to the
imaginative type, they bring forth childish or chimerical productions.
So that we may answer the question asked above: The non-imaginative
person is such from lack of materials or through the absence of

Without contenting ourselves with these theoretical remarks, let us
rapidly show that it is thus that these things actually happen. All the
work of the creative imagination may be classed under two great
heads--esthetic inventions and practical inventions; on the one hand,
what man has brought to pass in the domain of art, and on the other
hand, all else. Though this division may appear strange, and
unjustifiable, it has reason for its being, as we shall see hereafter.

Let us consider first the class of non-esthetic creations. Very
different in nature, all the products of this group coincide at one
point:--they are of practical utility, they are born of a vital need, of
one of the conditions of man's existence. There are first the inventions
"practical" in the narrow sense--all that pertains to food, clothing,
defense, housing, etc. Every one of these special needs has stimulated
inventions adapted to a special end. Inventions in the social and
political order answer to the conditions of collective existence; they
arise from the necessity of maintaining the coherence of the social
aggregate and of defending it against inimical groups. The work of the
imagination whence have arisen the myths, religious conceptions, and the
first attempts at a scientific explanation may seem at first
disinterested and foreign to practical life. This is an erroneous
supposition. Man, face to face with the higher powers of nature, the
mystery of which he does not penetrate, has a _need_ of acting upon it;
he tries to conciliate them, even to turn them to his service by magic
rites and operations. _His_ curiosity is not at all theoretic; he does
not aim to know for the sake of knowing, but in order to act upon the
outside world and to draw profit therefrom. To the numerous questions
that necessity puts to him his imagination alone responds, because his
reason is shifting and his scientific knowledge _nil_. Here, then,
invention again results from urgent needs.

Indeed, in the course of the nineteenth century and on account of
growing civilization all these creations reach a second moment when
their origin is hidden. Most of our mechanical, industrial and
commercial inventions are not stimulated by the immediate necessity of
living, by an urgent need; it is not a question of existence but of
better existence. The same holds true of social and political inventions
which arise from the increasing complexity and the new requirements of
the aggregates forming great states. Lastly, it is certain that
primitive curiosity has partially lost its utilitarian character in
order to become, in some men at least, the taste for pure
research--theoretical, speculative, disinterested. But all this in no
way affects our thesis, for it is a well-known elementary psychological
law that upon primitive wants are grafted acquired wants fully as
imperative. The primitive need is modified, metamorphosed, adapted;
there remains of it, nonetheless, the fundamental activity toward

Let us now consider the class of esthetic creations. According to the
generally accepted theory which is too well known for me to stop to
explain it, art has its beginning in a superfluous, bounding activity,
useless as regards the preservation of the individual, which is shown
first in the form of play. Then, through transformation and
complication, play becomes primitive art, dancing, music, and poetry at
the same time, closely united in an apparently indissoluble unity.
Although the theory of the absolute inutility of art has met some strong
criticism, let us accept it for the present. Aside from the true or
false character of inutility, the psychological mechanism remains the
same here as in the preceding cases; we shall only say that in place of
a vital need it is a need of _luxury_ acting, but it acts only because
it is in man.

Nevertheless, the inutility of play is far from proven biologically.
Groos, in his two excellent works on the subject,[17] has maintained
with much power the opposite view. According to him the theory of
Schiller and Spencer, based on the expenditure of superfluous activity
and the opposite theory of Lazarus, who reduces play to a
relaxation--that is, a recuperation of strength--are but partial
explanations. Play has a positive use. In man there exist a great number
of instincts that are not yet developed at birth. An incomplete being,
he must have education of his capacities, and this is obtained through
play, _which is the exercise of the natural tendencies of human
activities_. In man and in the higher animals plays are a preparation, a
prelude to the active functions of life. _There is no instinct of play
in general, but there are special instincts that are manifested under
the forms of play._ If we admit this explanation, which does not lack
potency, the work of the esthetic imagination itself would be reduced
to a biological necessity, and there would be no reason for making a
separate category of it. Whichever view we may adopt, it still remains
established that any invention is reducible, directly or indirectly, to
a particular, determinate need, and that to allow man a special
instinct, the definite specific character of which should be stimulation
to creative activity, is a fantastic notion.

Whence, then, comes this persistent and in some respects seductive idea
that creation is an instinctive result? Because a happy invention has
characteristics that evidently relate it to instinctive activity in the
strict sense of the word. First, precocity, of which we shall later give
numerous examples, and which resembles the innateness of instinct.
Again, orientation in a single direction: the inventor is, so to speak,
polarized; he is the slave of music, of mechanics, of mathematics; often
inapt at everything outside his own particular sphere. We know the
witticism of Madame du Deffant on Vaucanson, who was so awkward, so
insignificant when he ventured outside of mechanics. "One should say
that this man had manufactured himself." Finally, the ease with which
invention often (not always) manifests itself makes it resemble the work
of a pre-established mechanism.

But these and similar characteristics may be lacking. They are necessary
for instinct, not for invention. There are great creators who have been
neither precocious nor confined in a narrow field, and who have given
birth to their inventions painfully, laboriously. Between the mechanism
of instinct and that of imaginative creation there are frequently great
analogies but not identity of nature. Every tendency of our
organization, useful or hurtful, may become the beginning of a creative
act. Every invention arises from a particular need of human nature,
acting within its own sphere and for its own special end.

If now it should be asked why the creative imagination directs itself
preferably in one line rather than in another--toward poetry or physics,
trade or mechanics, geometry or painting, strategy or music, etc.--we
have nothing in answer. It is a result of the individual organization,
the secret of which we do not possess. In ordinary life we meet people
visibly borne along toward love or good cheer, toward ambition, riches
or good works; we say that they are "so built," that such is their
character. At bottom the two questions are identical, and current
psychology is not in a position to solve them.


[12] _Ueber Phantasievorstellungen_, Graz, 1889, p. 48.

[13] _Die Spiele der Thiere_, Jena, 1896. The subject has been very
well treated by this author, pp. 294-301.

[14] The "disinterested" view is found widely advocated or hinted at
in literature. Cf. Goethe's "Der Sänger" (Tr.).

[15] _Psychology_, I, 571 ff.

[16] Höffding, _Psychologie_, p. 219; _Eng. trans._, p. 161.

[17] Groos, _Die Spiele der Thiere_, 1896, and _Die Spiele der
Menschen_, 1899 (Eng. trans., Appletons, New York, 1898, 1901).




By this term I designate principally, not exclusively, what ordinary
speech calls "inspiration." In spite of its mysterious and
semi-mythological appearance, the term indicates a positive fact, one
that is ill-understood in a deep sense, like all that is near the roots
of creation. This concept has its history, and if it is permissible to
apply a very general formula to a particular case we may say that it has
developed according to the law of the three states assumed by the

In the beginning, inspiration is literally ascribed to the
gods--among the Greeks to Apollo and the Muses, and in like manner
under various polytheistic religions. Later, the gods become
supernatural spirits, angels, saints, etc. In one way or another it
is always regarded as external and superior to man. In the
beginnings of all inventions--agriculture, navigation, medicine,
commerce, legislation, fine arts--there is a belief in revelation;
the human mind considers itself incapable of having discovered all
that. Creation has arisen, we do not know how, in a total ignorance
of the processes.

Later on these higher beings become empty formulas, mere survivals;
there remain only the poets to invoke their aid, through the force of
tradition, without believing in them. But side by side with these formal
survivals there remains a mysterious ground which is translated by vague
expressions and metaphors, such as "enthusiasm," "poetic frenzy,"
"possession by a spirit," "being overcome," "having the devil inside
one," "the spirit whispers as it lists," etc. Here we have come out of
the supernatural without, however, attempting a positive (i.e., a
scientific) explanation.

Lastly, in the third stage, we try to sound this unknown. Psychology
sees in it a special manifestation of the mind, a particular,
semi-conscious, semi-unconscious state which we must now study.

At first sight, and considered in its negative aspect, inspiration
presents a very definite character. It does not depend on the individual
will. As in the case of sleep or digestion, we may try to call it forth,
encourage it, maintain it; but not always with success. Inventors, great
and small, never cease to complain over the periods of unproductiveness
which they undergo in spite of themselves. The wiser among them watch
for the moment; the others attempt to fight against their evil fate and
to create despite nature.

Considered in its positive aspect, inspiration has two essential
marks--suddenness and impersonality.

(a) It makes a sudden eruption into consciousness, but one presupposing
a latent, frequently long, labor. It has its analogues among other
well-known psychic states; for example, a passion that is forgotten,
which, after a long period of incubation, reveals itself through an act;
or, better, a sudden resolve after endless deliberation which did not
seem able to come to a head. Again, there may be absence of effort and
of appearance of preparation. Beethoven would strike haphazard the keys
of a piano or would listen to the songs of birds. "With Chopin," says
George Sand, "creation was spontaneous, miraculous; he wrought without
foreseeing. It would come complete, sudden, sublime." One might pile up
like facts in abundance. Sometimes, indeed, inspiration bursts forth in
deep sleep and awakens the sleeper, and lest we may suppose this
suddenness to be especially characteristic of artists we see it in all
forms of invention. "You feel a little electric shock striking you in
the head, seizing your heart at the same time--that is the moment of
genius" (Buffon). "In the course of my life I have had some happy
thoughts," says Du Bois Reymond, "and I have often noted that they would
come to me involuntarily, and when I was not thinking of the subject."
Claude Bernard has voiced the same thought more than once.

(b) Impersonality is a deeper character than the preceding. It reveals a
power superior to the conscious individual, strange to him although
acting through him: a state which many inventors have expressed in the
words, "I counted for nothing in that." The best means of recognizing it
would be to write down some observations taken from the inspired
individuals themselves. We do not lack them, and some have the virtue of
good observation.[18] But that would lead us too far afield. Let us only
remark that this unconscious impulse acts variously according to the
individual. Some submit to it painfully, striving against it just like
the ancient pythoness at the time of giving her oracle. Others,
especially in religious inspiration, submit themselves entirely with
pleasure or else sustain it passively. Still others of a more analytic
turn have noted the concentration of all their faculties and capacities
on a single point. But whatever characteristics it takes on, remaining
impersonal at bottom and unable to appear in a fully conscious
individual, we must admit, unless we wish to give it a supernatural
origin, that inspiration is derived from the unconscious activity of the
mind. In order to make sure of its nature it would then be necessary to
make sure first of the nature of the unconscious, which is one of the
enigmas of psychology.

I put aside all the discussions on the subject as tiresome and useless
for our present aim. Indeed, they reduce themselves to these two
principal propositions: for some the unconscious is a purely
physiological activity, a "cerebration"; for others it is a gradual
diminution of consciousness which exists without being bound to me--i.e.,
to the principal consciousness. Both these are full of difficulties
and present almost insurmountable objections.[19]

Let us take the "unconscious" as a fact and let us limit ourselves to
clearing it up, relating inspiration to mental states that have been
judged worthy of explaining it.

1. Hypermnesia, or exaltation of memory, in spite of what has been said
about it, teaches us nothing in regard to the nature of inspiration or
of invention in general. It is produced in hypnotism, mania, the excited
period of "circular insanity," at the beginning of general paralysis,
and especially under the form known as "the gift of tongues" in
religious epidemics. We find, it is true, some observations (among
others one by Regis of an illiterate newspaper vender composing pieces
of poetry of his own), indicating that a heightened memory sometimes
accompanies a certain tendency toward invention. But hypermnesia, pure
and simple, consists of an extraordinary flood of memories totally
lacking that essential mark of creation--new combinations. It even
appears that in the two instances there is rather an antagonism since
heightened memory comes near to the ideal law of total redintegration,
which is, as we know, a hindrance to invention. They are alike only with
respect to the great mass of separable materials, but where the
principle of unity is wanting there can be no creation.

2. Inspiration has often been likened to the state of excitement
preceding intoxication. It is a well-known fact that many inventors have
sought it in wine, alcoholic liquors, toxic substances like hashish,
opium, ether, etc. It is unnecessary to mention names. The abundance of
ideas, the rapidity of their flow, the eccentric spurts and caprices,
novel ideas, strengthening of the vital and emotional tone, that brief
state of bounding fancy of which novelists have given such good
descriptions, make evident to the least observing that under the
influence of intoxication the imagination works to a much greater extent
than ordinarily. Yet how pale that is compared to the action of the
intellectual poisons above mentioned, especially hashish. The
"artificial paradise" of DeQuincy, Moreau de Tours, Théophile Gautier,
Baudelaire and others have made known to all an enormous expansion of
the imagination launched into a giddy course without limits of time and

Strictly, these are facts representing only a stimulated, artificial,
temporary inspiration. They do not take us into its true nature; at the
most they may teach us concerning some of their physiological
conditions. It is not even an inspiration in the strict sense, but
rather a beginning, an embryo, an outline, analogous to the creations
produced in dreams which are found very incoherent when we awake. One of
the essential conditions of creation, a principal element--the directing
principle that organizes and unifies--is lacking. Under the influence
of alcoholic drinks and of poisonous intoxicants attention and will
always fall into exhaustion.

3. With greater reason it has been sought to explain inspiration by
comparison with certain forms of somnambulism, and it has been said that
"it is only the lowest degree of the latter state, somnambulism in a
waking state. In inspiration it is as though a strange personality were
speaking to the author; in somnambulism it is the stranger himself who
talks or holds the pen, who speaks or writes--in a word, does the
work."[20] It would thus be the modified form of a state that is the
culmination of subconscious activity and a state of double personality.
As this last explanatory expression is wonderfully abused, and is called
upon to serve in all conditions, preciseness is indispensable.

The inspired individual is like an awakened dreamer--he lives in his
dream. (Of this we might cite seemingly authentic examples: Shelly,
Alfieri, etc.) Psychologically, this means that there is in him a double
inversion of the normal state.

To begin with, consciousness monopolized by the number and intensity of
its images is closed to the influences of the outside world, or else
receives them only to make them enter the web of its dream. The internal
life annihilates the external, which is just the opposite of ordinary

Further, the unconscious or subconscious activity passes to the first
plane, plays the first part, while preserving its impersonal character.

This much allowed, if we would go further, we are thrown into increasing
difficulties. The existence of an unconscious working is beyond doubt;
facts in profusion could be given in support of this obscure elaboration
which enters consciousness only when all is done. But what is the nature
of this work? Is it purely physiological? Is it psychological? We come
to two opposing theses. Theoretically, we may say that everything goes
on in the realm of the unconscious just as in consciousness, _only
without a message to me_; that in clear consciousness the work may be
followed up step by step, while in unconsciousness it proceeds likewise,
but unknown to us. It is evident that all this is purely hypothetical.

Inspiration resembles a cipher dispatch which the unconscious activity
transmits to the conscious process, which translates it. Must we admit
that in the deep levels of the unconscious there are formed only
fragmentary combinations and that they reach complete systematization
only in clear consciousness, or, rather, is the creative labor identical
in both cases? It is difficult to decide. It seems to be accepted that
genius, or at least richness, in invention depends on the subliminal
imagination,[21] not on the other, which is superficial in nature and
soon exhausted. The one is spontaneous, true; the other, artificial,
feigned. "Inspiration" signifies unconscious imagination, and is only a
special case of it. Conscious imagination is a kind of perfected state.

To sum up, inspiration is the result of an underhand process existing in
men, in some to a very great degree. The nature of this work being
unknown, we can conclude nothing as to the ultimate nature of
inspiration. On the other hand, we may in a positive manner fix the
value of the phenomenon in invention, all the more as we are inclined to
over-value it. We should, indeed, note that inspiration is not a cause
but an effect--more exactly, a moment, a crisis, a critical stage; it is
an _index_. It marks either the end of an unconscious elaboration which
may have been very short or very long, or else the beginning of a
conscious elaboration which will be very short or very long (this is
seen especially in cases of creation suggested by chance). On the one
hand, it never has an absolute beginning; on the other hand, it never
delivers a finished work; the history of inventions sufficiently proves
this. Furthermore, one may pass beyond it; many creations long in
preparation seem without a crisis, strictly so called; such as Newton's
law of attraction, Leonardo da Vinci's "Last Supper," and the "Mona
Lisa." Finally, many have felt themselves really inspired without
producing anything of value.[22]


What has been said up to this point does not exhaust the study of the
unconscious factor as a source of new combinations. Its rôle can be
studied under a simpler and more limited form. For this purpose we need
to return for the last time to association of ideas. The final reason
for association (outside of contiguity, in part at least) must be sought
in the temperament, character, individuality of the subject, often even
in the _moment_; that is, in a passing influence, hardly perceptible
because it is unconscious or subconscious. These momentary dispositions
in latent form can excite novel relations in two ways--through mediate
association and through a special mode of grouping which has recently
received the name "constellation."

1. Mediate association has been well known since the time of Hamilton,
who was the first to determine its nature and to give a personal example
that has become classic. Loch Lomond recalled to him the Prussian system
of education because, when visiting the lake, he had met a Prussian
officer who conversed with him on the subject. His general formula is
this: _A_ recalls _C_, although there is between them neither contiguity
nor resemblance, but because a middle term, _B_, which does not enter
consciousness, serves as a transition between _A_ and _C_. This mode of
association seemed universally accepted when, latterly, it has been
attacked by Münsterberg and others. People have had recourse to
experimentation, which has given results only in slight agreement.[23]
For my own part, I count myself among those contemporaries who admit
mediate association, and they are the greater number. Scripture, who has
made a special study of the subject, and who has been able to note all
the intermediate conditions between almost clear consciousness and the
unconscious, considers the existence of mediate association as proven.
In order to pronounce as an illusion a fact that is met with so often in
daily experience, and one that has been studied by so many excellent
observers, there is required more than experimental investigations (the
conditions of which are often artificial and unnatural), some of which,
moreover, conclude for the affirmative.

This form of association is produced, like the others, now by
contiguity, now by resemblance. The example given by Hamilton belongs to
the first type. In the experiments by Scripture are found some of the
second type--e.g., a red light recalled, through the vague memory of a
flash of strontium light, a scene of an opera.

It is clear that by its very nature mediate association can give rise to
novel combinations. Contiguity itself, which is usually only repetition,
becomes the source of unforeseen relations, thanks to the elimination of
the middle term. Nothing, moreover, proves that there may not sometimes
be several latent intermediate terms. It is possible that _A_ should
call up _D_ through the medium of _b_ and _c_, which remain below the
threshold of consciousness. It seems even impossible not to admit this
in the hypothesis of the subconscious, where we see only the two end
links of the chain, without being able to allow a break of continuity
between them.

2. In his determination of the regulating causes of association of
ideas, Ziehen designates one of these under the name of "constellation,"
which has been adopted by some writers. This may be enunciated thus: The
recall of an image, or of a group of images, is in some cases the result
of a sum of predominant tendencies.

An idea may become the starting point of a host of associations. The
word "Rome" can call up a hundred. Why is one called up rather than
another, and at such a moment rather than at another? There are some
associations based on contiguity and on resemblance which one may
foresee, but how about the rest? Here is an idea _A_; it is the center
of a network; it can radiate in all directions--_B, C, D, E, F, etc._
Why does it call up now _B_, later _F_?

It is because every image is comparable to a force, which may pass from
the latent to the active condition, and in this process may be
reinforced or checked by other images. There are simultaneous and
inhibitory tendencies. _B_ is in a state of tension and _C_ is not; or
it may be that _D_ exerts an arresting influence on _C_. Consequently
_C_ cannot prevail. But an hour later conditions have changed and
victory rests with _C_. This phenomenon rests on a physiological basis:
the existence of several currents diffusing themselves through the brain
and the possibility of receiving simultaneous excitations.[24]

A few examples will make plainer this phenomenon of reinforcement, in
consequence of which an association prevails. Wahle reports that the
Gothic _Hôtel de Ville_, near his house, had never suggested to him the
idea of the Doges' Palace at Venice, in spite of certain architectural
likenesses, until a certain day when this idea broke upon him with much
clearness. He then recalled that two hours before he had observed a lady
wearing a beautiful brooch in the form of a gondola. Sully rightly
remarks that it is much easier to recall the words of a foreign language
when we return from the country where it is spoken than when we have
lived a long time in our own, because the tendency toward recollection
is reinforced by the recent experience of the words heard, spoken,
read, and a whole array of latent dispositions that work in the same

In my opinion we would find the finest examples of "constellation,"
regarded as a creative element, in studying the formation and
development of myths. Everywhere and always man has had for material
scarcely anything save natural phenomena--the sky, land, water, stars,
storms, wind, seasons, life, death, etc. On each of these themes he
builds thousands of explanatory stories, which vary from the grandly
imposing to the laughably childish. Every myth is the work of a human
group which has worked according to the tendencies of its special genius
under the influence of various stages of intellectual culture. No
process is richer in resources, of freer turn, or more apt to give what
every inventor promises--the novel and unexpected.

To sum up: The initial element, external or internal, excites
associations that one cannot always foresee, because of the numerous
orientations possible; an analogous case to that which occurs in the
realm of the will when there are present reasons for and against, acting
and not acting, one direction or another, now or later--when the final
resolution cannot be predicted, and often depends on imperceptible

In conclusion, I anticipate a possible question: "Does the unconscious
factor differ in nature from the two others (intellectual and
emotional)?" The answer depends on the hypothesis that one holds as to
the nature of the unconscious itself. According to one view it would be
especially physiological, consequently different; according to another,
the difference can exist only _in the processes_: unconscious
elaboration is reducible to intellectual or emotional processes the
preparatory work of which is slighted, and which enters consciousness
ready made. Consequently, the unconscious factor would be a special form
of the other two rather than a distinct element in invention.


[18] Several of them will be found in Appendix A at the end of this

[19] On this subject see Appendix B.

[20] Dr. Chabaneix, _Le subconscient sur les artistes, les savants,
et les écrivains_, Paris, 1897, p. 87.

[21] The recent case, studied with so much ability by M. Flournoy in
his book, "_Des Indes à la planète Mars_" (1900), is an example of
the subliminal creative imagination, and of the work it is capable
of doing by itself.

[22] We shall return to this point in another part of this work. See
Part II, chapter iv.

[23] Thus Howe (_American Journal of Psychology_, vi, 239 ff.), has
published some investigations in the negative. One series of 557
experiments gave him eight apparently mediate associations; after
examination, he reduced them to a single one, which seemed to him
doubtful. Another series of 961 experiments gives 72 cases, for
which he offers an explanation other than mediate association. On
the other hand, Aschaffenburg admits them to the extent of four per
cent.; the association-time is longer than for average associations
(_Psychologische Arbeiten_, I and II). Consult especially Scripture,
_The New Psychology_, chapter xiii, with experiments in support of
his conclusion.

[24] Ziehen, _Leitfaden der physiologischen Psychologie_, 4th
edition, 1898, pp. 164, 174. Also, Sully, _Human Mind_, I, 343.



Whatever opinion we may hold concerning the nature of the unconscious,
since that form of activity is related more than any other to the
physiological conditions of the mental life, the present time is
suitable for an exposition of the hypotheses that it is permissible to
express concerning the organic bases of the imagination. What we may
regard as positive, or even as probable, is very little.


First, the anatomical conditions. Is there a "seat" of the imagination?
Such is the form of the question asked for the last twenty years. In
that period of extreme and closely bounded localization men strained
themselves to bind down every psychic manifestation to a strictly
determined point of the brain. Today the problem presents itself no
longer in this simple way. As at present we incline toward scattered
localization, functional rather than properly anatomical, and as we
often understand by "center" the synergic action of several centers
differently grouped according to the individual case, our question
becomes equivalent to: "Are there certain portions of the brain having
an exclusive or preponderating part in the working of the creative
imagination?" Even in this form the question is hardly acceptable.
Indeed, the imagination is not a primary and relatively simple function
like that of visual, auditory and other sensations. We have seen that it
is a state of tertiary formation and very complex. There is required,
then, (1) that the elements constituting imagination be determined in a
rigorous manner, but the foregoing analysis makes no pretense of being
definitive; (2) that each of these constitutive elements may be strictly
related to its anatomic conditions. It is evident that we are far from
possessing the secret of such a mechanism.

An attempt has been made to put the question in a more precise and
limited form by studying the brains of men distinguished in different
lines. But this method, in avoiding the difficulty, answers our question
indirectly only. Most often great inventors possess qualities besides
imagination indispensable for success (Napoleon, James Watt, etc.). How
draw a dividing line so as to assign to the imagination only its
rightful share? In addition, the anatomical determination is beset with

A method flourishing very greatly about the middle of the nineteenth
century consisted of weighing carefully a large number of brains and
drawing various conclusions as to intellectual superiority or
inferiority from a comparison of the weights. We find on this point
numerous documents in the special works published during the period
mentioned. But this method of weights has given rise to so many
surprises and difficulties in the way of explanation that it has been
quite necessary to give it up, since we see in it only another element
of the problem.

Nowadays we attribute the greatest importance to the morphology of the
brain, to its histological structure, the marked development of certain
regions, the determination not only of centers but of connections and
associations between centers. On this last point contemporary anatomists
have given themselves up to eager researches, and, although the cerebral
architecture is not conceived by all in the same way, it is proper for
psychology to note that all with their "centers" or "associational
system" try to translate into their own language the complex conditions
of mental life. Since we must choose from among these various anatomical
views let us accept that of Flechsig, one of the most renowned and one
having also the advantage of putting directly the problem of the organic
conditions of the imagination.

We know that Flechsig relies on the embryological method--that is, on
the development--in the order of time, of nerves and centers. For him
there exist on the one hand sensitive regions (sensory-motor), occupying
about a third of the cortical surface; on the other hand,
association-centers, occupying the remaining part.

So far as the sensory centers are concerned, development occurs in the
following order: Organic sensations (middle of cerebral cortex), smell
(base of the brain and part of the frontal lobes), sight (occipital
lobe), hearing (first temporal). Whence it results that in a definite
part of the brain the body comes to proper consciousness of its
impulses, wants, appetites, pains, movements, etc., and that this part
develops first--"knowledge of the body precedes that of the outside

In what concerns the associational centers, Flechsig supposes three
regions: The great posterior center (parieto-occipito-temporal);
another, much smaller, anterior or frontal; and a middle center, the
smallest of all (the Island of Reil). Comparative anatomy proves that
the associational centers are more important than those of sensation.
Among the lower mammals they develop as we go up the scale: "That which
makes the psychic man may be said to be the centers of association that
he possesses." In the new-born child the sensitive centers are isolated,
and, in the absence of connections between them, the unity of the self
cannot be manifested; there is a plurality of consciousness.

This much admitted, let us return to our special question, which
Flechsig asks in these words: "On what does genius rest? Is it based on
a special structure in the brain, or rather on special irritability?
that is, according to our present notions, on chemical factors? We may
hold the first opinion with all possible force. Genius is always united
to a special structure, to a particular organization of the brain." All
parts of this organ do not have the same value. It has been long
admitted that the frontal part may serve as a measure of intellectual
capacity; but we must allow, contrariwise, that there are other regions,
"principally a center located under the protuberance at the top of the
head, which is very much developed in all men of genius whose brains
have been studied down to our day. In Beethoven, and probably also in
Bach, the enormous development of this part of the brain is striking. In
great scientists like Gauss the centers of the posterior region of the
brain and those of the frontal region are strongly developed. The
scientific genius thus shows proportions of brain-structure other than
the artistic genius."[25] There would then be, according to our author,
a preponderance of the frontal and parietal regions--the former obtain
especially among artists; the latter among scientists. Already, twenty
years before Flechsig, Rüdinger had noted the extraordinary development
of the parietal convolutions in eminent men after a study of eighteen
brains. All the convolutions and fissures were so developed, said he,
that the parieto-occipital region had an altogether peculiar character.

By way of summary we must bear in mind that, as regards anatomical
conditions, even when depending on the best of sources, we can at
present give only fragmentary, incomplete, hypothetical views.

Let us now go on to the physiology.


We might have rightly asked whether the physiological states existing
along with the working of the creative imagination are the cause,
effect, or merely the accompaniment of this activity. Probably all the
three conditions are met with. First, concomitance is an accomplished
fact, and we may consider it as an organic manifestation parallel to
that of the mind. Again, the employment of artificial means to excite
and maintain the effervescence of the imagination assigns a causal or
antecedent position to the physiologic conditions. Lastly, the psychic
activity may be initial and productive of changes in the organism, or,
if these already exist, may augment and prolong them.

The most instructive instances are those indicated by very clear
manifestations and profound modifications of the bodily condition. Such
are the moments of inspiration or simply those of warmth from work which
arise in the form of sudden impulses.

The general fact of most importance consists of changes in the blood
circulation. Increase of intellectual activity means an increase of work
in the cortical cells, dependent on a congested, sometimes a temporarily
anæmic state. Hyperæmia seems rather the rule, but we also know that
slight anæmia increases cortical excitability. "Weak, contracted pulse;
pale, chilly skin; overheated head; brilliant, sunken, roving eyes,"
such is the classic, frequently quoted description of the physiological
state during creative labor. There are numerous inventors who, of their
own accord, have noted these changes--irregular pulse, in the case of
Lagrange; congestion of the head, in Beethoven, who made use of cold
douches to relieve it, etc. This elevation of the vital tone, this
nervous tension, translates itself also into motor form through
movements analogous to reflexes, without special end, mechanically
repeated and always the same in the same man--e.g., movement of the
feet, hands, fingers; whittling the table or the arms of a chair (as in
the case of Napoleon when he was elaborating a plan of campaign), etc.
It is a safety-valve for the excessive flow of nervous impulse, and it
is admitted that this method of expenditure is not useless for
preserving the understanding in all its clearness. In a word, increase
of the cerebral circulation is the formula covering the majority of
observations on this subject.

Does experimentation, strictly so called, teach us anything on this
point? Numerous and well-known physiological researches, especially
those of Mosso, show that all intellectual, and, most of all, emotional,
work, produces cerebral congestion; that the brain-volume increases, and
the volume of the peripheral organs diminishes. But that tells us
nothing particularly about the imagination, which is but a special case
under the rule. Latterly, indeed, it has been proposed to study
inventors by an objective method through the examination of their
several circulatory, respiratory, digestive apparatus; their general
and special sensibility; the modes of their memory and forms of
association, their intellectual processes, etc. But up to this time no
conclusion has been drawn from these individual descriptions that would
allow any generalization. Besides, has an experiment, in the strict
sense of the word, ever been made at the "psychological moment"? I know
of none. Would it be possible? Let us admit that by some happy chance
the experimenter, using all his means of investigation, can have the
subject under his hand at the exact moment of inspiration--of the
sudden, fertile, brief creative impulse--would not the experiment itself
be a disturbing cause, so that the result would be _ipso facto_
vitiated, or at least unconvincing?

There still remains a mass of facts deserving summary notice--the
oddities of inventors. Were we to collect only those that may be
regarded as authentic we could make a thick volume. Despite their
anecdotal character these evidences do not seem to be unworthy of some

It is impossible to enter here upon an enumeration that would be
endless. After having collected for my own information a large number of
these strange peculiarities, it seems to me that they are reducible to
two categories:

(1) Those inexplicable freaks dependent on the individual constitution,
and more often probably also on experiences in life the memory of which
has been lost. Schiller, for example, kept rotten apples in his work

(2) The others, more numerous, are easy to explain. They are
physiological means consciously or unconsciously chosen to aid creative
work; they are auxiliary helpers of the imagination.

The most frequent method consists of artificially increasing the flow of
blood to the brain. Rousseau would think bare-headed in full sunshine;
Bossuet would work in a cold room with his head wrapped in furs; others
would immerse their feet in ice-cold water (Grétry, Schiller). Very
numerous are those who think "horizontally"--that is, lying stretched
out and often flattened under their blankets (Milton, Descartes,
Leibniz, Rossini, etc.)

Some require motor excitation; they work only when walking,[26] or else
prepare for work by physical exercise (Mozart). For variety's sake, let
us note those who must have the noise of the streets, crowds, talk,
festivities, in order to invent. For others there must be external pomp
and a personal part in the scene (Machiavelli, Buffon). Guido Reni would
paint only when dressed in magnificent style, his pupils crowded about
him and attending to his wants in respectful silence.

On the opposite side are those requiring retirement, silence,
contemplation, even shadowy darkness, like Lamennais. In this class we
find especially scientists and thinkers--Tycho-Brahé, who for twenty-one
years scarcely left his observatory; Leibniz, who could remain for
three days almost motionless in an armchair.

But most methods are too artificial or too strong not to become quickly
noxious. Every one knows what they are--abuse of wine, alcoholic
liquors, narcotics, tobacco, coffee, etc., prolonged periods of
wakefulness, less for increasing the time for work than to cause a state
of hyperesthesia and a morbid sensibility (Goncourt).

Summing up: The organic bases of the creative imagination, if there are
any specially its own, remain to be determined. For in all that has been
said we have been concerned only with some conditions of the general
working of the mind--assimilation as well as invention. The
eccentricities of inventors studied carefully and in a detailed manner
would finally, perhaps, be most instructive material, because it would
allow us to penetrate into their inmost individuality. Thus, the
physiology of the imagination quickly becomes pathology. I shall not
dwell on this, having purposely eliminated the morbid side of our
subject. It will, however, be necessary to return thereto, touching upon
it in another part of this essay.


There remains a problem, so obscure and enigmatic that I scarcely
venture to approach it, in the analogy that most languages--the
spontaneous expression of a common thought--establish between
physiologic and psychic creation. Is it only a superficial likeness, a
hasty judgment, a metaphor, or does it rest on some positive basis?
Generally, the various manifestations of mental activity have as their
precursor an unconscious form from which they arise. The sensitiveness
belonging to living substance, known by the names heliotropism,
chemotropism, etc., is like a sketch of sensation and of the reactions
following it; organic memory is the basis and the obliterated form of
conscious memory. Reflexes introduce voluntary activity; appetitions and
hidden tendencies are the forerunners of effective psychology. Instinct,
on several sides, is like an unconscious and specific trial of reason.
Has the creative power of the human mind also analogous antecedents, a
physiological equivalent?

One metaphysician, Froschammer, who has elevated the creative
imagination to the rank of primary world-principle, asserts this
positively. For him there is an objective or cosmic imagination working
in nature, producing the innumerable varieties of vegetable and animal
forms; transformed into subjective imagination it becomes in the human
brain the source of a new form of creation. "The very same principle
causes the living forms to appear--a sort of objective image--and the
subjective images, a kind of living form."[27] However ingenious and
attractive this philosophical theory may be, it is evidently of no
positive value for psychology.

Let us stick to experience. Physiology teaches that generation is a
"prolonged nutrition," a surplus, as we see so plainly in the lower
forms of agamous generation (budding, division). The creative
imagination likewise presupposes a superabundance of psychic life that
might otherwise spend itself in another way. Generation in the physical
order is a spontaneous, natural tendency, although it may be stimulated,
successfully or otherwise, by artificial means. We can say as much of
the other. This list of resemblances it would be easy to prolong. But
all this is insufficient for the establishment of a thorough identity
between the two cases and the solution of the question.

It is possible to limit it, to put it into more precise language. Is
there a connection between the development of the generative function
and that of the imagination? Even in this form the question scarcely
permits any but vague answers. In favor of a connection we may allege:

(1) The well-known influence of puberty on the imagination of both
sexes, expressing itself in day-dreams, in aspirations toward an
unattainable ideal,[28] in the genius for invention that love bestows
upon the least favored. Let us recall also the mental troubles, the
psychoses designated by the name hebephrenia. With adolescence coincides
the first flowering of the fancy which, having emerged from its
swaddling-clothes of childhood, is not yet sophisticated and

It is not a matter of indifference for the general thesis of the present
work to note that this development of the imagination depends wholly on
the first effervescence of the emotional life. That "influence of the
feelings on the imagination" and of "the imagination on the feelings" of
which the moralists and the older psychologists speak so often is a
vague formula for expressing this fact--that the motor element included
in the images is reinforced.

(2) _Per contra_, the weakening of the generative power and of the
constructive imagination coincide in old age, which is, in a word, a
decay of nutrition, a progressive atrophy. It is proper not to omit the
influence of castration. According to the theory of Brown-Séquard, it
produces an abatement of the nutritive functions through the suppression
of an internal stimulus; and, although its relations to the imagination
have not been especially studied, it is not rash to admit that it is an
arresting cause.

However, the foregoing merely establishes, between the functions
compared, a concomitance in the general course of their evolution and in
their critical periods; it is insufficient for a conclusion. There
would be needed clear, authentic and sufficiently numerous observations
proving that individuals bereft of imagination of the creative type have
acquired it suddenly through the sole fact of their sexual influences,
and, inversely, that brilliant imaginations have faded under the
contrary conditions. We find some of these evidences in Cabanis,[29]
Moreau de Tours and various alienists; they would seem to be in favor of
the affirmative, but some seem to me not sure enough, others not
explicit enough. Despite my investigations on this point, and inquiry of
competent persons, I do not venture to draw a definite conclusion. I
leave the question open; it will perhaps tempt another more fortunate


[25] Flechsig, _Gehirn und Seele_, 1896.

[26] Is it possible that this would explain the fact of Aristotle
lecturing to his pupils while walking about, thus giving the name
"peripatetic" to his school and system? (Tr.)

[27] _Die Phantasie als Grundprincip der Weltprocesses_, München,
1877. For other details on the subject, see Appendix C.

[28] A passage from Chateaubriand (cited by Paulhan, _Rev. Philos._,
March, 1898, p. 237) is a typical description of the situation: "The
warmth of my (adolescent) imagination, my shyness, and solitude,
caused me, instead of casting myself on something without, to fall
back upon myself. Wanting a real object, I evoked through the power
of my desires, a phantom, which thenceforth never left me; I made a
woman, composed of all the women that I had already seen. That
charming idea followed me everywhere, though invisible; I conversed
with her as with a real being; she would change according to my
frenzy. Pygmalion was less enamored of his statue."

[29] Cabanis, _Rapports du Physique et du Moral_, édition Peisse,
pp. 248-249, an anecdote that he relates after Buffon. Analogous,
but less clear, facts may also be found in Moreau de Tours'
_Psychologie morbide_.



The psychological nature of the imagination would be very imperfectly
known were we limited to the foregoing analytical study. Indeed, all
creation whatever, great or small, shows an organic character; it
implies a unifying, synthetic principle. Every one of the three
factors--intellectual, emotional, unconscious--works not as an isolated
fact on its own account; they have no worth save through their union,
and no signification save through their common bearing. This principle
of unity, which all invention demands and requires, is at one time
intellectual in nature, i.e., as a fixed idea; at another time
emotional, i.e., as a fixed emotion or passion. These terms--fixed
idea, fixed emotion--are somewhat absolute and require restrictions and
reservations, which will be made in what follows.

The distinction between the two is not at all absolute. Every fixed idea
is supported and maintained by a need, a tendency, a desire; i.e., by
an affective element. For it is idle fancy to believe in the
_persistence_ of an idea which, by hypothesis, would be a purely
intellectual state, cold and dry. The principle of unity in this form
naturally predominates in certain kinds of creation: in the practical
imagination wherein the end is clear, where images are direct
substitutes for things, where invention is subjected to strict
conditions under penalty of visible and palpable check; in the
scientific and metaphysical imagination, which works with concepts and
is subject to the laws of rational logic.

Every fixed emotion should realize itself in an idea or image that gives
it body and systematizes it, without which it remains diffuse; and all
affective states can take on this permanent form which makes a unified
principle of them. The simple emotions (fear, love, joy, sorrow, etc.),
the complex or derived emotions (religious, esthetic, intellectual
ideas) may equally monopolize consciousness in their own interests.

We thus see that these two terms--fixed idea, fixed emotion--are almost
equivalent, for they both imply inseparable elements, and serve only to
indicate the preponderance of one or the other element.

This principle of unity, center of attraction and support of all the
working of the creative imagination--that is, a subjective principle
tending to become objectified--is the ideal. In the complete sense of
the word--not restrained merely to esthetic creation or made synonymous
with perfection as in ethics--the ideal is a construction in images that
should become a reality. If we liken imaginative creation to
physiological generation, the ideal is the ovum awaiting fertilization
in order to begin its development.

We could, to be more exact, make a distinction between the synthetic
principle and the ideal conception which is a higher form of it. The
fixation of an end and the discovery of appropriate means are the
necessary and sufficient conditions for all invention. A creation,
whatever it be, that looks only to present success, can satisfy itself
with a unifying principle that renders it viable and organized, but we
can look higher than the merely necessary and sufficient.

The ideal is the principle of unity in motion in its historic evolution;
like all development, it advances or recedes according to the times.
Nothing is less justified than the conception of a fixed archetype (an
undisguised survival of the Platonic Ideas), illuminating the inventor,
who reproduces it as best he can. The ideal is a nonentity; it arises in
the inventor and through him; its life is a _becoming_.

Psychologically, it is a construction in images belonging to the merely
sketched or outlined type.[30] It results from a double activity,
negative and positive, or dissociation and association, the first cause
and origin of which is found in a _will that it shall be so_; it is the
motor tendency of images in the nascent state engendering the ideal.
The inventor cuts out, suppresses, sifts, according to his temperament,
character, taste, prejudices, sympathies and antipathies--in short, his
_interest_. In this separation, already studied, let us note one
important particular. "We know nothing of the complex psychic production
that may simply be the sum of component elements and in which they would
remain with their own characters, with no modification. The nature of
the components disappears in order to give birth to a novel phenomenon
that has its own and particular features. The construction of the ideal
is not a mere grouping of past experiences; in its totality it has its
own individual characteristics, among which we no more see the composing
lines than we see the components, oxygen and hydrogen, in water. In no
scientific or artistic production, says Wundt, does the whole appear as
made up of its parts, like a mosaic."[31] In other words, it is a case
of mental chemistry. The exactness of this expression, which is due, I
believe, to J. Stuart Mill, has been questioned. Still it answers to
positive facts; for example, in perception, to the phenomena of contrast
and their analogues; juxtaposition or rapid succession of two different
colors, two different sounds, of tactile, olfactory, gustatory
impressions different in quality, produces a particular state of
consciousness, similar to a combination. Harmony or discord does not,
indeed, exist in each separate sound, but only in the relations and
sequence of sounds--it is a _tertium quid_. We have heretofore, in the
discussion of association of ideas, very frequently represented the
states of consciousness as fixed elements that approach one another,
cohere, separate, come together anew, but always unalterable, like
atoms. It is not so at all. Consciousness, says Titchener, resembles a
fresco in which the transition between colors is made through all kinds
of intermediate stages of light and shade.... The idea of a pen or of an
inkwell is not a stable thing clearly pictured like the pen or inkwell
itself. More than any one else, William James has insisted on this point
in his theory of "fringes" of states of consciousness. Outside of the
given instances we could find many others among the various
manifestations of the mental life. It is not, then, at all chimerical to
assume in psychology an equivalent of chemical combination. In a complex
state there is, in addition to the component elements, the result of
their reciprocal influences, of their varying relations. Too often we
forget this resultant.

At bottom the ideal is an individual concept. If objection is offered
that an ideal common to a large mass of men is a fact of common
experience (e.g., idealists and realists in the fine arts, and even
more so religious, moral, social and political concepts, etc.), the
answer is easy: There are families of minds. They have a common ideal
because, in certain matters, they have the same way of feeling and
thinking. It is not a transcendental idea that unites them; but this
result occurs because from their common aspirations the collective ideal
becomes disengaged; it is, in scholastic terminology, a _universale post

The ideal conception is the first moment of the creative act, which is
not yet battling with the conditions of the actual. It is only the
internal vision of an individual mind that has not yet been projected
externally with a form and body. We know how the passage from the
internal to the external life has given rise among inventors to
deceptions and complaints. Such was the imaginative construction that
could not, unchanged, enter into its mould and become a reality.

Let us now examine the various forms of this coagulating[32] principle
in advancing from the lowest to the highest, from the unity vaguely
anticipated to the absolute and tyrannical masterful unity. Following a
method that seems to me best adapted for these ill-explained questions I
shall single out only the principal forms, which I have reduced to
three--the unstable, the organic or middle, and the extreme or
semi-morbid unity.

(1) The unstable form has its starting point directly and immediately in
the reproductive imagination without creation. It assembles its
elements somewhat by chance and stitches together the bits of our life;
it ends only in beginnings, in attempts. The unity-principle is a
momentary disposition, vacillating and changing without cessation
according to the external impressions or modifications of our vital
conditions and of our humor. By way of example let us recall the state
of the day-dreamer building castles in the air; the delirious
constructions of the insane, the inventions of the child following all
the fluctuations of chance, of its caprice; the half-coherent dreams
that seem to the dreamer to contain a creative germ. In consequence of
the extreme frailty of the synthetic principle the creative imagination
does not succeed in accomplishing its task and remains in a condition
intermediate between simple association of ideas and creation proper.

(2) The organic or middle form may be given as the type of the unifying
power. Ultimately it reduces itself to attention and presupposes nothing
more, because, thanks to the process of "localization," which is the
essential mark of attention, it makes itself a center of attraction,
grouping about the leading idea the images, associations, judgments,
tendencies and voluntary efforts. "Inspiration," the poet Grillparzer
used to say, "is a concentration of all the forces and capacities upon a
single point which, for the time being, should represent the world
rather than enclose it. The reinforcement of the state of the mind comes
from the fact that its several powers, instead of spreading themselves
over the whole world, are contained within the bounds of a single
object, touch one another, reciprocally help and reinforce each
other."[33] What the poet here maintains as regards esthetics only is
applicable to all the _organic_ forms of creation--that is to those
ruled by an immanent logic, and, like them, resembling works of Nature.

In order to leave no doubt as to the identity of attention and
imaginative synthesis, and in order to show that it is normally the true
unifying principle, we offer the following remarks:

Attention is at times spontaneous, natural, without effort, simply
dependent on the interest that a thing excites in us--lasting as long as
it holds us in subjection, then ceasing entirely. Again, it is
voluntary, artificial, an imitation of the other, precarious and
intermittent, maintained with effort--in a word, laborious. The same is
true of the imagination. The moment of inspiration is ruled by a perfect
and spontaneous unity; its impersonality approaches that of the forces
of Nature. Then appears the personal moment, the detailed working and
long, painful, intermittent resumptions, the miserable turns of which so
many inventors have described. The analogy between the two cases seems
to me incontestable.

Next let us note that psychologists always adduce the same examples when
they wish to illustrate on the one hand, the processes of the
persistent, tenacious attention, and, on the other hand, the
developmental labor without which creative work does not come to pass:
"Genius is only long patience," the saying of Newton; "always thinking
of it," and like expressions of d'Alembert, Helmholtz and others,
because in the one case as in the other the fundamental condition is the
existence of a fixed, ever-active idea, notwithstanding its relaxations
and its incessant disappearances into the unconscious with return to

(3) The extreme form, which from its nature is semi-morbid, becomes in
its highest degree plainly pathological; the unifying principle changes
to a condition of obsession.

The normal state of our mind is a plurality of states of consciousness
(polyideism). Through association there is a radiation in every
direction. In this totality of coexisting images no one long occupies
first place; it is driven away by others, which are displaced in turn by
still others emerging from the penumbra. On the contrary, in attention
(relative monoideism) a single image retains first place for a long time
and tends to have the same importance again. Finally, in a condition of
obsession (absolute monoideism) the fixed idea defies all rivalry and
rules despotically. Many inventors have suffered painfully this tyranny
and have vainly struggled to break it. The fixed idea, once settled,
does not permit anything to dislodge it save for the moment and with
much pain. Even then it is displaced only apparently, for it persists in
the unconscious life where it has thrust its deep roots.

At this stage the unifying principle, although it can act as a stimulus
for creation, is no longer normal. Consequently, a natural question
arises: Wherein is there a difference between the obsession of the
inventor and the obsession of the insane, who most generally destroys in
place of creating?

The nature of fixed ideas has greatly occupied contemporary alienists.
For other reasons and in their own way they, too, have been led to
divide obsession into two classes, the intellectual and emotional,
according as the idea or the affective state predominates. Then they
have been led to ask: Which of these two elements is the primitive one?
For some it is the idea. For others, and it seems that these are the
more numerous, the affective state is in general the primary fact; the
obsession always rests on a basis of morbid emotion and in a retention
of impressions.[34]

But whatever opinion we may hold on this point, the difficulty of
establishing a dividing line between the two forms of obsession above
mentioned remains the same. Are there characters peculiar to each one?

It has been said: "The physiologically fixed idea is normally longed
for, often sought, in all cases accepted, and it does not break the
unity of the self." It does not impose itself fatally on consciousness;
the individual knows the value thereof, knows where it leads him, and
adapts his conduct to its requirements. For example, Christopher

The pathological fixed idea is "parasitic," automatic, discordant,
irresistible. Obsession is only a special case of psychic
disintegration, a kind of doubling of consciousness. The individual
becomes a person "possessed," whose self has been confiscated for the
sake of the fixed idea, and whose submission to his situation is wrought
with pain.

In spite of this parallel the distinguishing criterion between the two
is very vague, because from the sane to the delirious idea the
transitions are very numerous. We are obliged to recognize "that with
certain workers--who are rather taken up with the elaboration of their
work, and not masters directing it, quitting it, and resuming it at
their pleasure--an artistic, scientific, or mechanical conception
succeeds in haunting the mind, imposing itself upon it even to the
extent of causing suffering." In reality, pure psychology is unable to
discover a positive difference between obsession leading to creative
work and the other forms, because in both cases the mental mechanism is,
at bottom, the same. The criterion must be sought elsewhere. For that we
must go out of the internal world and proceed objectively. We must judge
the fixed idea not in itself but by its effects. What does it produce in
the practical, esthetic, scientific, moral, social, religious field? It
is of value according to its fruits. If objection be made to this change
of front we may, in order to stick to a strictly psychological point of
view, state that it is certain that as soon as it passes beyond a middle
point, which it is difficult to determine, the fixed idea profoundly
troubles the mechanism of the mind. In imaginative persons this is not
rare, which partly explains why the pathological theory of genius (of
which we shall speak later) has been able to rally so many to its
support and to allege so many facts in its favor.


[30] For the distinction between this form of imagination and the
two others (fixed, objectified), I refer the reader to the
Conclusion of this work, where the subject will be treated in

[31] Colozza, _L'immaginazione nella Scienza_, Rome, 1900, pp. 111

[32] This unifying, organizing, creative principle is so active in
certain minds that, placed face to face with any work whatever--novel,
picture, monument, scientific or philosophic theory, financial or
political institution--while believing that they are merely
considering it, they spontaneously remake it. This characteristic of
their psychology distinguishes them from mere critics.

[33] Oelzelt-Newin, _op. cit._, p. 49.

[34] Pitres et Régis, _Séméiologie des obsessions et des idées
fixes_, 1878. Séglas, _Leçons cliniques sur les maladies mentales_,
1895. Raymond et Janet, _Névroses et idées fixes_, 1898.





Up to this point the imagination has been treated analytically only.
This process alone would give us but a very imperfect idea of its
essentially concrete and lively nature were we to stop here. So this
part continues the subject in another shape. I shall attempt to follow
the imagination in its ascending development from the lowest to the most
complex forms, from the animal to the human infant, to primitive man,
thence to the highest modes of invention. It will thus be exhibited in
the inexhaustible variety of its manifestations which the abstract and
simplifying process of analysis does not permit us to suspect.


I shall not dwell at length on the imagination of animals, not only
because the question is much involved but also because it is hardly
liable to a positive solution. Even eliminating mere anecdotes and
doubtful observations, there is no lack of verified and authentic
material, but it still remains to interpret them. As soon as we begin to
conjecture we know how difficult it is to divest ourselves of all

The question has been formulated, even if not treated, with much system
by Romanes in his _Mental Evolution in Animals_.[35] Taking
"imagination" in its broadest sense, he recognizes four stages:

1. Provoked revival of images. For example, the sight of an orange
reminds one of its taste. This is a low form of memory, resting on
association by contiguity. It is met with very far down in the animal
scale, and the author furnishes abundant proof of it.

2. Spontaneous revival. An object present calls up an absent object.
This is a higher form of memory, frequent in ants, bees, wasps, etc.,
which fact explains the mistrustful sagacity of wild animals. At night,
the distant baying of a hound stops the fox in his course, because all
the dangers he has undergone are represented in his mind.

These two stages do not go beyond memory pure and simple, i.e.,
reproductive imagination. The other two constitute the higher

3. The capacity of associating absent images, without suggestion derived
from without, through an internal working of the mind. It is the lower
and primitive form of the creative imagination, which may be called a
passive synthesis. In order to establish its existence, Romanes reminds
us that dreams have been proven in dogs, horses, and a large number of
birds; that certain animals, especially in anger, seem to be subject to
delusions and pursued by phantoms; and lastly, that in some there is
produced a condition resembling nostalgia, expressing itself in a
violent desire to return to former haunts, or in a wasting away
resulting from the absence of accustomed persons and things. All these
facts, especially the latter, can hardly be explained without a vivid
recollection of the images of previous life.

4. The highest stage consists of intentionally reuniting images in order
to make novel combinations from them. This may be called an active
synthesis, and is the true creative imagination. Is this sometimes found
in the animal kingdom? Romanes very clearly replies, no; and not without
offering a plausible reason. For creation, says he, there must first be
capacity for abstraction, and, without speech, abstraction is very weak.
One of the conditions for creative imagination is thus wanting in the
higher animals.

We here come to one of those critical moments, so frequent in animal
psychology, when one asks, Is this character exclusively human, or is it
found in embryo in lower forms? Thus it has been possible to support a
theory opposing that of Romanes. Certain animals, says Oelzelt-Newin,
fulfill all the conditions necessary for creative imagination--subtle
senses, good memory, and appropriate emotional states.[36] This
assertion is perhaps true, but it is purely dialectic. It is equivalent
to saying that the thing is possible; it does not establish it as a
fact. Besides, is it very certain that all the conditions for creative
imagination are present here, since we have just shown that there is
lack of abstraction? The author, who voluntarily limits his study to
birds and the construction of their nests, maintains, against Wallace
and others, that nest-building requires "the mysterious synthesis of
representations." We might with equal reason bring the instances of
other building animals (bees, wasps, white ants, the common ants,
beavers, etc.). It is not unreasonable to attribute to them an
anticipated representation of their architecture. Shall we say that it
is "instinctive," consequently unconscious? At least, may we not group
under this head, changes and adaptations to new conditions which these
animals succeed in applying to the typical plans of their construction?
Observations and even systematic experiments (like those of Huber,
Forel, _et al._) show that, reduced to the alternative of the
impossibility of building or the modification of their habits, certain
animals modify them. Judging from this, how refuse them invention
altogether? This contradicts in no way the very just reservation of
Romanes. It is sufficient to remark that abstraction or dissociation has
stages, that the simplest are accessible to the animal intelligence. If,
in the absence of words, the logic of concepts is forbidden it, there
yet remains the logic of images,[37] which is sufficient for slight
innovations. In a word, animals can invent according to the extent that
they can dissociate.

In our opinion, if we may with any truthfulness attribute a creative
power to animals, we must seek it elsewhere. Generally speaking, we
attribute only a mediocre importance to a manifestation that might very
well be the proper form of animal fancy. It is purely motor, and
expresses itself through the various kinds of play.

Although play may be as old as mankind, its psychology dates only from
the nineteenth century. We have already seen that there are three
theories concerning its nature--it is "expenditure of superfluous
activity," "a mending, restoring of strength, a recuperation," "an
apprenticeship, a preliminary exercise for the active functions of life
and for the development of our natural gifts."[38] The last position,
due to Groos, does not rule out the other two; it holds the first valid
for the young, the second for adults; but it comprehends both in a more
general explanation.

Let us leave this doctrinal question in order to call attention to the
variety and richness of form of play in the animal world. In this
respect the aforementioned book of Groos is a rich mine of evidence to
which I would refer the reader. I limit myself to summing up his
classification. He distinguishes nine classes of play, viz.: (1) Those
that are at bottom experimental, consisting of trials at hazard without
immediate end, often giving the animal a certain knowledge of the
properties of the external world. This is the introduction to an
experimental physics, optics, and mechanics for the brood of animals.
(2) Movements or changes of place executed of their own accord--a very
general fact as is proven by the incessant movements of butterflies,
flies, birds, and even fishes, which often appear to play in the water
rather than to seek prey; the mad running of horses, dogs, etc., in free
space. (3) Mimicry of hunting, i.e., playing with a living or dead
prey: the dog and cat following moving objects, a ball, feather, etc.
(4) Mimic battles, teasing and fighting without anger. (5) Architectural
art, revealing itself especially in the building of nests: certain birds
ornament them with shining objects (stones, bits of glass), by a kind of
anticipation of the esthetic feeling. (6) Doll-play is universal in
mankind, whether civilized or savage. Groos believes he has found its
equivalent in certain animals. (7) Imitation through pleasure, so
familiar in monkeys (grimaces); singing-birds which counterfeit the
voices of a large number of beasts. (8) Curiosity, which is the only
mental play one meets in animals--the dog watching, from a wall or
window, what is going on in the street. (9) Love-plays, "which differ
from the others in that they are not mere exercises, but have in view a
real object." They have been well-known since Darwin's time, he
attributing to them an esthetic value which has been denied by Wallace,
Tylor, Lloyd Morgan, Wallaschek, and Groos.

Let us recapitulate in thought the immense quantity of motor expressions
included in these nine categories and let us note that they have the
following characters in common: They are grouped in combinations that
are often new and unforeseen; they are not a repetition of daily life,
acts necessary for self-preservation. At one time the movements are
combined simultaneously (exhibition of beautiful colors), again (and
most often) successively (amorous parades, fights, flight, dancing,
emission of noises, sounds or songs); but, under one form or another,
there is _creation_, _invention_. Here, the imagination acts in its
purely motor character; it consists of a small number of images that
become translated into actions, and serve as a center for their
grouping; perhaps even the image itself is hardly conscious, so that all
is limited to a spontaneous production and a collection of motor

It will doubtless be said that this form of imagination belongs to a
very shallow, poor psychology. It cannot be otherwise. It is necessary
that imaginative production be found reduced to its simplest expression
in animals, and the motor form must be its special characteristic mark.
It cannot have any others for the following reasons: incapacity for the
work that necessarily precedes abstraction or dissociation, breaking
into bits the data of experience, making them raw material for the
future construction; lack of images, and especially fewness of possible
combinations of images. This last point is proven alike from the data of
animal psychology and of comparative anatomy. We know that the nervous
elements in the brain serving as connections between sensory
regions--whether one conceive of them as centers (Flechsig), or as
bundles of commisural fibers (Meynert, Wernicke)--are hardly outlined in
the lower mammalia and attain only a mediocre development in the higher

By way of corroboration of the foregoing, let us compare the higher
animals with young children: this comparison is not based on a few
far-fetched analogies, but in a thorough resemblance in nature. Man,
during the first years of his life, has a brain but slightly
differentiated, especially as regards connections, a very poor supply of
images, a very weak capacity for abstraction. His intellectual
development is much inferior to that of reflex, instinctive, impulsive,
and imitative movements. In consequence of this predominance of the
motor system, the simple and imperfect images, in children as in
animals, tend to be immediately changed into movements. Even most of
their inventions in play are greatly inferior to those enumerated above
under nine distinct heads.

A serious argument in favor of the prevalence of imagination of the
motor type in the child is furnished by the principal part taken by
movements in infantile insanity: a remark made by many alienists. The
first stage of this madness, they say, is found in the convulsions that
are not merely a physical ailment, but "a muscular delirium." The
disturbance of the automatic and instinctive functions of the child is
so often associated with muscular disturbances that at this age the
mental disorders correspond to the motor ganglionic centers situated
below those parts that later assume the labor of analysis and of
imagination. The disturbances are in the primary centers of organization
and according to the symptoms lack those analytic or constructive
qualities, those ideal forms, that we find in adult insanity. If we
descend to the lowest stage of human life--to the baby--we see that
insanity consists almost entirely of the activity of a muscular group
acting on external objects. The insane baby bites, kicks, and these
symptoms are the external measure of the degree of its madness.[39] Has
not chorea itself been called a muscular insanity?

Doubtless, there likewise exists in the child a sensorial madness
(illusions, hallucinations); but by reason of its feeble intellectual
development the delirium causes a disorder of movements rather than of
images; its insane imagination is above all a motor insanity.

To hold that the creative imagination belonging to animals consists of
new combinations of movements is certainly an hypothesis. Nevertheless,
I do not believe that it is merely a mental form without foundation, if
we take into account the foregoing facts. I consider it rather as a
point in favor of the motor theory of invention. It is a singular
instance in which the original form of creation is shown bare. If we
wanted to discover it, it would be necessary to seek it where it is
reduced to the greatest simplicity--in the animal world.


[35] Chapter X.

[36] _Op. cit._, Appendix.

[37] For a more detailed study of this subject, the reader is
referred to the author's _Evolution of General Ideas_ (English
trans., Open Court Publishing Co., Chicago), chapter I, section I.

[38] A rather extended study of the subject by H. A. Carr will be
found in the _Investigations of the Department of Psychology and
Education of the University of Colorado_, vol. I, Number 2, 1902.
The late Professor Arthur Allin devoted much time to the
investigation of play. See his brief article entitled "Play" in the
_University of Colorado Studies_, vol. I, 1902, pp. 58-73. (Tr.)

[39] Hack Tuke, "Insanity of Children," in _Dictionary of
Psychological Medicine_.



At what age, in what form, under what conditions does the creative
imagination make its appearance? It is impossible to answer this
question, which, moreover, has no justification. For the creative
imagination develops little by little out of pure reproduction by an
evolutionary process, not by sudden eruption. Nevertheless, its
evolution is very slow on account of causes both organic and

We could not dwell long on the organic causes without falling into
tiresome repetitions. The new-born infant is a spinal being, with an
unformed diffluent brain, composed largely of water. Reflex life itself
is not complete in him, and the cortico-motor system only hinted at; the
sensory centers are undifferentiated, the associational systems remain
isolated for a long time after birth. We have given above Flechsig's
observation on this point.

The psychological causes reduce themselves to the necessity for a
consolidation of the primary and secondary operations of the mind,
without which the creative imagination cannot take form. To be precise,
we might distinguish, as does Baldwin, four epochs in the mental
development of the child: (1) affective (rudimentary sensory processes,
pleasures and pains, simple motor adaptations); (2) and (3) objective,
in which the author establishes two grades, (a) appearance of special
senses, of memory, instincts primarily defensive, and imitation; (b)
complex memory, complicated movements, offensive activities, rudimentary
will; (4) subjective or final (conscious thought, constitutive will,
ideal emotions). If we accept this scheme as approximately correct, the
_moment_ of imagination must be assigned to the third period (the second
stage of the objective epoch) which fulfills all the sufficient and
necessary conditions for its origination and for its rise above pure

Whatever the propitious age may be, the study of the child-imagination
is not without difficulties. In order to enter into the child-mind, we
must become like a child; as it is, we are limited to an interpretation
of it in terms of the adult, with much false interpretation possible,
agreeing too much or too little with the facts. Furthermore, the
children studied live and grow up in a civilized environment. The result
is that the development of their imagination is rarely unhampered and
complete; for as soon as their fancy passes the middle level, the
rationalizing education of parents and teachers is eager to master and
control it. In truth it gives its full measure and reveals itself in
the fulness of growth only among primitive peoples. With us it is
checked in its flight by an antagonistic power, which treats it as a
harbinger of insanity. Finally, children are not equally well-suited for
this study; we must make a distinction between the imaginative and
non-imaginative, and the latter should be eliminated.

When we have thus chosen suitable subjects, observation shows from the
start sufficiently distinct varieties, different orientations of the
imagination depending on intellectual causes, such as the predominance
of visual or acoustic or tactile-motor images making for mechanical
invention; or dependent on emotional causes, that is, of character,
according as the latter is timid, joyous, exuberant, retired, healthy,
sickly, etc.

If we now attempt to follow the development of the child-imagination, we
may distinguish four principal stages, without assigning them,
otherwise, a rigorous chronological order.

1. The first stage consists of the passage from passive to creative
imagination. Its history would be long were we to include all the hybrid
forms that are made up partly of memories, partly of new groupings,
being at the same time repetition and construction. Even in the adult,
they are very frequent. I know a person who is always afraid of being
smothered, and for this reason urgently asks that in his coffin his
shirt be not tight at the neck: this odd prepossession of the mind
belongs neither to memory nor to imagination. This particular case
illustrates in a very clear form the nature of the first flights of the
mind attempting to exercise its imaginative powers. Without enumerating
other facts of this kind, it is more desirable to follow the
imagination's development, limiting ourselves to two forms of the
psychic life--perception and illusion. The necessary presence of the
image in these two forms has been so often proven by contemporary
psychology that a few words to recall this to mind will be sufficient.

There seems to be a radical difference between perception, which seizes
reality, and imagination. Nevertheless, it is generally admitted that in
order to rise above sensation to perception, there must be a synthesis
of images. To put it more simply, two elements are required--one, coming
from without, the physiological stimulus acting on the nerves and the
sensory centers, which becomes translated in consciousness through the
vague state that goes by the name "sensation"; the other, coming from
within, adds to the sensations present appropriate images, remnants of
former experiences. So that perception requires an apprenticeship; we
must feel, then imperfectly perceive, in order to finally perceive well.
The sensory datum is only a fraction of the total fact; and in the
operation we call "perceiving," that is, apprehending an object
directly, a part only of the object is represented.

This, however, does not go beyond reproductive imagination. The decisive
step is taken in illusion. We know that illusion has as a basis and
support a modification of the external senses which are metamorphosed,
amplified by an immediate construction of the mind: a branch of a tree
becomes a serpent, a distant noise seems the music of an orchestra.
Illusion has as broad a field as perception, since there is no
perception but may undergo this erroneous transformation, and it is
produced by the same mechanism, but with interchange of the two terms.
In perception, the chief element is the sensory, and the representative
element is secondary; in illusion, we have just the opposite condition:
what one takes as perceived is merely imagined--the imagination assumes
the principal rôle. Illusion is the type of the transitional forms, of
the mixed cases, that consist of constructions made up of memories,
without being, in the strict sense, creations.

2. The creative imagination asserts itself with its peculiar
characteristics only in the second stage, in the form of animism or the
attributing of life to everything. This turn of the mind is already
known to us, though mentioned only incidentally. As the state of the
child's mind at that period resembles that which in primitive man
creates myths, we shall return to it in the next chapter. Works on
psychology abound in facts demonstrating that this primitive tendency to
attribute life and even personality to everything is a necessary phase
that the mind must undergo--long or short in duration, rich or poor in
inventions, according to the level of the child's imagination. His
attitude towards his dolls is the common example of this state, and
also the best example, because it is universal, being found in all
countries without exception, among all races of men. It is needless to
pile up facts on an uncontroverted point.[40] Two will suffice; I choose
them on account of their extravagance, which shows that at this
particular moment animism, in certain minds, can dare anything. "One
little fellow, aged one year eight months, conceived a special fondness
for the letter W, addressing it thus: 'Dear old boy W.' Another little
boy well on in his fourth year, when tracing a letter L, happened to
slip, so that the horizontal limb formed an angle, thus:


He instantly saw the resemblance to the sedentary human form, and said:
'Oh, he's sitting down.' Similarly, when he made an F turn the wrong way
and then put the correct form to the left, thus,

    +---   ---+
    |         |
    +--     --+
    |         |

he exclaimed, 'They're talking together!'" One of Sully's correspondents
says: "I had the habit of attributing intelligence not only to all
living creatures ... but even to stones and manufactured articles. I
used to feel how dull it must be for the pebbles in the causeway to lie
still and only see what was round about. When I walked out with a basket
for putting flowers in, I used sometimes to pick up a pebble or two and
carry them out to have a change."

Let us stop a moment in order to try to determine the nature of this
strange mental state, all the more as we shall meet it again in
primitive man, and since it presents the creative imagination at its

a. The first element is a fixed idea, or rather, an image, or group of
images, that takes possession of consciousness to the exclusion of
everything else:--it is the analogue of the state of suggestion in the
hypnotized subject, with this sole difference--that the suggestion does
not come from without, from another, but from the child itself--it is
auto-suggestion. The stick that the child holds between his legs becomes
for him an imaginary steed. The poverty of his mental development makes
all the easier this contraction of the field of his consciousness, which
assures the supremacy of the image.

b. This has as its basis a reality that it includes. This is an
important detail to note, because this reality, however tiny, gives
objectivity to the imaginary creation and incorporates it with the
external world. The mechanism is like that which produces illusion, but
with a stable character excluding correction. The child transforms a bit
of wood or paper into another self, because he perceives only the
phantom he has created; that is, the images, not the material exciting
them, haunt his brain.

c. Lastly, this creative power investing the image with all its
attributes of real existence is derived from a fundamental fact--the
state of belief, i.e., adherence of the mind founded on purely
subjective conditions. It does not come within my province to treat
incidentally such a large question. Neglected by the older physiology,
whose faculty-method inclined it toward this omission, belief or faith
has recently become the object of numerous studies.[41] I necessarily
limit myself to remarking that but for this psychic state, the nature of
the imagination is totally incomprehensible. The peculiarity of the
imagination is the production of a reality of human origin, and it
succeeds therein only because of the faith accompanying the image.

Representation and belief are not completely separated; it is the nature
of the image to appear at first as a real object. This psychological
truth, though proven through observation, has made itself acceptable
only with great difficulty. It has had to struggle on the one hand
against the prejudices of common-sense for which imagination is
synonymous with sham and vain appearance and opposed to the real as
non-being to being; on the other hand, against a doctrine of the
logicians who maintain that the idea is at first merely conceived with
no affirmation of existence or non-existence (_apprehensio simplex_).
This position, legitimate in logic, which is an abstract science, is
altogether unacceptable in psychology, a concrete science. The
psychological viewpoint giving the true nature of the image has
prevailed little by little. Spinoza already asserts "that
representations considered by themselves contain no errors," and he
"denies that it is possible to perceive [represent] without affirming."
More explicitly, Hume assigns belief to our subjective dispositions:
Belief does not depend on the nature of the idea, but on the manner in
which we conceive it. Existence is not a quality added to it by us; it
is founded on habit and is irresistible. The difference between fiction
and belief consists of a feeling added to the latter but not to the
former. Dugald Stewart treats the question purely as a psychologist
following the experimental method. He enumerates very many facts whence
he concludes that imagination is always accompanied by an act of belief,
but for which fact the more vivid the image, the less one would believe
it; but just the contrary happens--the strong representation commands
persuasion like sensation itself. Finally, Taine treats the subject
methodically, by studying the nature of the image and its primitive
character of hallucination.[42] At present, I think, there is no
psychologist who does not regard as proven that the image, when it
enters consciousness, has two moments. During the first, it is
objective, appearing as a full and complete reality; during the second,
which is definitive, it is deprived of its objectivity, reduced to a
completely internal event, through the effect of other states of
consciousness which oppose and finally annihilate its objective
character. There is an affirmation, then negation; impulse, then

Faith, being only a mode of existence, an attitude of the mind, owes its
creative and vivifying power to general dispositions of our
constitution. Besides the intellectual element which is its content, its
material--the thing affirmed or denied--there are tendencies and other
affective factors (desire, fear, love, etc.) giving the image its
intensity, and assuring it success in the struggle against other states
of consciousness. There are active faculties that we sometimes designate
by the name "will," understanding by the term, as James says, not only
deliberate volition, but all the factors of belief (hope, fear,
passions, prejudices, sectarian feeling, and so forth),[43] and this has
justly given rise to the truthful saying that the test of belief is
action.[44] This explains how in love, religion, in the moral life, in
politics, and elsewhere, belief can withstand the logical assaults of
the rationalizing intelligence--its power is found everywhere. It lasts
as long as the mind waits and consents; but, as soon as these affective
and active dispositions disappear in life's experience, faith falls with
them, leaving in its place a formless content, an empty and dead

After this, is it necessary to remark that belief depends peculiarly on
the motor elements of our organization and not on the intellectual? As
there is no imagination without belief, nor belief without imagination,
we return by another route to the thesis supported in the first part of
this essay, that creative activity depends on the motor nature of

Insofar as concerns the special case of the child, the first of the two
moments (the affirming) that the image undergoes in consciousness is all
in all for him, the second (the rectifying) is nothing: there is
hypertrophy of one, atrophy of the other. For the adult the contrary is
true--in many cases, indeed, in consequence of experience and habit, the
first moment, wherein the image should be affirmed as a reality, is only
virtual, is literally atrophied. We must, however, remark that this
applies only partially to the ignorant and even less to the savage.

We might, nevertheless, ask ourselves if the child's belief in his
phantoms is complete, entire, absolute, unreserved. Is the stick that he
bestrides perfectly identified with a horse? Was Sully's child, that
showed its doll a series of engravings to choose from, completely
deceived? It seems that we must rather admit an intermittence, an
alteration between affirmation and negation. On the one hand, the
skeptical attitude of those who laugh at it displeases the child, who is
like a devout believer whose faith is being broken down. On the other
hand, doubt must indeed arise in him from time to time, for without
this, rectification could never occur--one belief opposes the other or
drives it away. This second work proceeds little by little, but then,
under this form, imagination retreats.

3. The third stage is that of play, which, in chronological order,
coincides with the one just preceding. As a form of creation it is
already known to us, but in passing from animals to children, it grows
in complexity and becomes intellectualized. It is no longer a simple
combination of images.

Play serves two ends--for experimenting: as such it is an introduction
to knowledge, gives certain vague notions concerning the nature of
things; for creating: this is its principal function.

The human child, like the animal, expends itself in movements, forms
associations new to it, simulates defence, flight, attack; but the child
soon passes beyond this lower stage, in order to construct by means of
images (ideally). He begins by imitating: this is a physiological
necessity, reasons for which we shall give later (see chapter iv.
_infra_). He constructs houses, boats, gives himself up to large plans;
but he imitates most in his own person and acts, making himself in turn
soldier, sailor, robber, merchant, coachman, etc.

To the period of imitation succeed more serious attempts--he acts with a
"spirit of mastery," he is possessed by his idea which he tends to
realize. The personal character of creation is shown in that he is
really interested only in a work that emanates from himself and of
which he feels himself the cause. B. Perez relates that he wanted to
give a lesson to his nephew, aged three and a half years, whose
inventions seemed to him very poor. Perez scratched in the sand a trench
resembling a river, planted little branches on both banks, and had water
flow through it; put a bridge across, and launched boats. At each new
act the child would remain cool, his admiration would always have to be
waited for. Out of patience, he remarked shortly that "this isn't at all
entertaining." The author adds: "I believed it useless to persist, and I
trampled under foot, laughing at myself, my awkward attempt at a
childish construction."[45] "I had already read it in many a book, but
this time I had learned from experience that the free initiative of
children is always superior to the imitations we pretend to make for
them. In addition, this experience and others like it have taught me
that their creative force is much weaker than has been said."

4. At the fourth stage appears romantic invention, which requires a more
refined culture, being a purely internal, wholly imaginative (i.e.,
cast in images) creation. It begins at about three or four years of age.
We know the taste of imaginative children for stories and legends, which
they have repeated to them until surfeited: in this respect they
resemble semi-civilized people, who listen greedily to rhapsodies for
hours at a time, experiencing all the emotions appropriate to the
incidents of the tale. This is the prelude to creation, a semi-passive,
semi-active state, an apprentice period, which will permit them to
create in their own turn. Thus the first attempts are made with
reminiscences, and imitated rather than created.

Of this we find numerous examples in the special works. A child of three
and a half saw a lame man going along a road, and exclaimed: "Look at
that poor ole man, mamma, he has dot [got] a bad leg." Then the romance
begins: He was on a high horse; he fell on a rock, struck his poor leg;
he will have to get some powder to heal it, etc. Sometimes the invention
is less realistic. A child of three often longed to live like a fish in
the water, or like a star in the sky. Another, aged five years nine
months, having found a hollow rock, invented a fairy story: the hole was
a beautiful hall inhabited by brilliant mysterious personages, etc.[46]

This form of imagination is not as common as the others. It belongs to
those whom nature has well endowed. It forecasts a development of mind
above the average. It may even be the sign of an inborn vocation and
indicate in what direction the creative activity will be orientated.

Let us briefly recall the creative rôle of the imagination in language,
through the intervening of a factor already studied--thinking by
analogy, an abundant source of often picturesque metaphors. A child
called the cork of a bottle "door;" a small coin was called by a little
American a "baby dollar;" another, seeing the dew on the grass, said,
"The grass is crying."

The extension of the meaning of words has been studied by Taine, Darwin,
Preyer, and others. They have shown that its psychological mechanism
depends sometimes on the perception of resemblance, again on association
by contiguity, processes that appear and intermingle in an unforeseen
manner. Thus, a child applies the word "mambro" at first to his nurse,
then to a sewing machine that she uses, then by analogy to an organ that
he sees on the street adorned with a monkey, then to his toys
representing animals.[47] We have elsewhere given more similar cases,
where we perceive the fundamental difference between thought by imagery
and rational thought.

To conclude: At this period the imagination is the master-faculty and
the highest form of intellectual development. It works in two
directions, one principal--it creates plays, invents romances, and
extends language; the other secondary--it contains a germ of thought and
ventures a fanciful explanation of the world which can not yet be
conceived according to abstract notions and laws.


[40] One will find a large number of examples in Sully's work,
_Studies of Childhood_, Chapter ii, entitled "The Age of
Imagination." Most of the observations given in the present chapter
have been borrowed from this author.

[41] Apropos of this subject compare especially the recent studies
by William James, _Varieties of Religious Experience_. (Tr.)

[42] Spinoza, _Ethics_, II, 49, _Scholium_; Hume, _Human
Understanding_, Part III, Section VII ff.; Dugald Stewart, _Elements
of the Philosophy of the Human Mind_, Vol. I, Ch. III; Taine, _On
Intelligence_, Part II.

[43] James, _The Will to Believe and Other Essays_, p. 10.

[44] Payot, _De la croyance_, 139 ff.

[45] B. Perez, _Les trois premières années de l'enfant_, p. 323.

[46] Sully, _op. cit._, pp. 59-61. Compayré, _L'évolution
intellectuelle et morale de l'enfant_, p. 145.

(Some time ago the writer was riding on a train, when the engine,
for some reason or other, began to slow up, jerking, puffing, almost
groaning, until it finally came to a full stop. The groaning
continued. A little girl of about three called to her mother,
"Too-too sick, too-too sick," and when finally the train started on
again, the child was overjoyed that "too-too" was well again. (Tr.))

[47] Sully, _op. cit._, p. 164.



We come now to a unique period in the history of the development of the
imagination--its golden age. In primitive man, still confined in
savagery or just starting toward civilization, it reaches its full bloom
in the creation of myths; and we are rightly astonished that
psychologists, obstinately attached to esthetics, have neglected such an
important form of activity, one so rich in information concerning the
creative imagination. Where, indeed, find more favorable conditions for
knowing it?

Man, prior to civilization, is a purely imaginative being; that is, the
imagination marks the summit of his intellectual development. He does
not go beyond this stage, but it is no longer an enigma as in animals,
nor a transitory phase as in the civilized child who rapidly advances to
the age of reason; it is a fixed state, permanent and lasting throughout
life.[48] It is there revealed to us in its entire spontaneity: it has
free rein; it can create without imitation or tradition; it is not
imprisoned in any conventional form; it is sovereign. As primitive man
has knowledge neither of nature nor of its laws, he does not hesitate to
embody the most senseless imaginings flitting through his brain. The
world is not, for him, a totality of phenomena subject to laws, and
nothing limits or hinders him.

This working of the pure imagination, left to itself and unadulterated
by the intrusion and tyranny of rational elements, becomes translated
into one form--the creation of myths; an anonymous, unconscious work,
which, as long as its rule lasts, is sufficient in every way,
comprehends everything--religion, poetry, history, science, philosophy,

Myths have the advantage of being the incarnation of pure imagination,
and, moreover, they permit psychologists to study them objectively.
Thanks to the labors of the nineteenth century, they offer an almost
inexhaustible content. While past ages forgot, misunderstood,
disfigured, and often despised myths as aberrations of the human mind,
as unworthy of an hour's attention, it is no longer necessary in our
time to show their interest and importance, even for psychology, which,
however, has not as yet drawn all the benefit possible from them.

But before commencing the psychological study of the genesis and
formation of myths considered as an objective emanation of the creative
imagination, we must briefly summarize the hypotheses at present offered
for their origin. We find two principal ones--the one, etymological,
genealogical, or linguistic; the other, ethno-psychological, or

The first, whose principal though not sole champion is Max Müller, holds
that myths are the result of a disease of language--words become things,
"nomina numina." This transformation is the effect of two principal
linguistic causes--(a) Polynomy; several words for one thing. Thus the
sun is designated by more than twenty names in the Vedas; Apollo,
Phaethon, Hercules are three personifications of the sun; _Varouna_
(night) and _Yama_ (death) express at first the same conception, and
have become two distinct deities. In short, every word tends to become
an entity having its attributes and its legends. (b) Homonomy, a single
word for several things. The same adjective, "shining," refers to the
sun, a fountain, spring, etc. This is another source of confusion. Let
us also add metaphors taken literally, plays upon words, wrong
construction, etc.

The opponents of this doctrine maintain that in the formation of myths,
words represent scarcely five per cent. Whatever may be the worth of
this assertion, the purely philological explanation remains without
value for psychology: it is neither true nor false--it does not solve
the question; it merely avoids it. The word is only an occasion, a
vehicle; without the working of the mind exciting it, nothing would
change. Moreover, Max Müller himself has recently recognized this.[50]

The anthropological theory, much more general than the foregoing,
penetrates further to psychological origins--it leads us to the first
advances of the human mind. It regards the myth not as an accident of
primitive life, but as a natural function, a mode of activity proper to
man during a certain period of his development. Later, the mythic
creations seem absurd, often immoral, because they are survivals of a
distant epoch, cherished and consecrated through tradition, habits, and
respect for antiquity. According to the definition that seems to me best
adapted for psychology, the myth is "the psychological objectification
of man in all the phenomena that he can perceive."[51] It is a
humanization of nature according to processes peculiar to the

Are these two views irreconcilable? It does not seem so to me, provided
we accept the first as only a partial explanation. In any event, both
schools agree on one point important for us--that the material for myths
is furnished by the observation of natural phenomena, including the
great events of human life: birth, sickness, death, etc. This is the
objective factor. The creation of myths has its explanation in the
nature of human imagination--this is the subjective factor. We can not
deny that most works on mythology have a very decided tendency to give
the greater importance to the first factor; in which respect they need a
little psychology. The periodic returns of the dawn, the sun, the moon
and stars, winds and storms, have their effect also, we may suppose, on
monkeys, elephants, and other animals supposedly the most intelligent.
Have they inspired myths? Just the opposite: "the surprising monotony of
the ideas that the various races have made final causes of phenomena, of
the origin and destiny of man, whence it results that the numberless
myths are reduced to a very small number of types,"[52] shows that it is
the human imagination that takes the principal part and that it is on
the whole perhaps not so rich as we are pleased to say--that it is even
very poor, compared to the fecundity of nature.

Let us now study the psychology of this creative activity, reducing it
to these two questions: How are myths formed? What line does their
evolution follow?


The psychology of the origin of the myth, of the work that causes its
rise, may theoretically, and for the sake of facilitating analysis, be
regarded as two principal moments--that of creation proper, and that of
romantic invention.

a. The moment of creation presupposes two inseparable operations which,
however, we have to describe separately. The first consists of
attributing life to all things, the second of assigning qualities to all

Animating everything, that is attributing life and action to everything,
representing everything to one's self as living and acting--even
mountains, rocks, and other objects (seemingly) incapable of movement.
Of this inborn and irresistible tendency there are so many facts in
proof that an enumeration is needless: it is the rule. The evidence
gathered by ethnologists, mythologists, and travelers fills large
volumes. This state of mind does not particularly belong to long-past
ages. It is still in existence, it is contemporary, and if we would see
it with our own eyes it is not at all necessary to plunge into virgin
countries, for there are frequent reversions even in civilized lands. On
the whole, says Tylor, it must be regarded as conceded that to the lower
races of humanity the sun and stars, the trees and rivers, the winds and
clouds, become animated creatures living like men and beasts,
fulfilling their special function in creation--or rather that what the
human eye can reach is only the instrument or the matter of which some
gigantic being, like a man, hidden behind the visible things, makes use.
The grounds on which such ideas are based cannot be regarded as less
than a poetic fancy or an ill-understood metaphor; they depend on a vast
philosophy of nature, certainly rude and primitive, but coherent and

The second operation of the mind, inseparable, as we have said, from the
first, attributes to these imaginary beings various qualities, but all
important to man. They are good or bad, useful or hurtful, weak or
powerful, kind or cruel. One remains stupefied before the swarming of
these numberless genii whom no natural phenomenon, no act of life, no
form of sickness escapes, and these beliefs remain unbroken even among
the tribes that are in contact with old civilizations.[53] Primitive man
lives and moves among the ceaseless phantoms of his own imagination.[54]

Lastly, the psychological mechanism of the creative moment is very
simple. It depends on a single factor previously studied--thinking by
analogy. It is a matter first of all--and this is important--of
conceiving beings analogous to ourselves, cast in our mould, cut after
our pattern; that is, feeling and acting; then qualifying them and
determining them according to the attributes of our own nature. But the
logic of images, very different from that of reason, concludes an
objective resemblance; it regards as alike, what seem alike; it
attributes to an internal linking of images, the validity of an
objective connection between things. Whence arises the discord between
the imagined world and the world of reality. "Analogies that for us are
only fancies were for the man of past ages real" (Tylor).

b. In the genesis of myths, the second moment is that of fanciful
invention. Entities take form; they have a history and adventures: they
become the stuff for a romance. People of poor and dry imagination do
not reach the second period. Thus, the religion of the Romans peopled
the universe with an innumerable quantity of genii. No object, no act,
no detail, but had its own presiding genius. There was one for
germinating grain, for sprouting grain, for grain in flower, for
blighted grain; for the door, its hinges, its lock, etc. There was a
myriad of misty, formless entities. This is animism arrested at its
first stage; abstraction has killed imagination.

Who created those legends and tales of adventure constituting the
subject-matter of mythology? Probably inspired individuals, priests or
prophets. They came perhaps from dreams, hallucinations, insane
attacks--they are derived from several sources. Whatever their origin,
they are the work of imaginative minds _par excellence_ (we shall study
them later) who, confronted with any event whatever, must, because of
their nature, construct a romance.

Besides analogy, this imaginative creation has as its principal source
the associational form already described under the name "constellation."
We know that it is based on the fact that, in certain cases, the
arousing of an image-group is the result of a tendency prevailing at a
given instant over several that are possible. This operation has already
been expounded theoretically with individual examples in support.[55]
But in order to gauge its importance, we must see it act in large
masses. Myths allow us to do this. Ordinarily they have been studied in
their historical development according to their geographical
distribution or ethnic character. If we proceed otherwise, if we
consider only their content--i.e., the very few themes upon which the
human imagination has labored, such as celestial phenomena, terrestrial
disturbances, floods, the origin of the universe, of man, etc.--we are
surprised at the wonderful richness of variety. What diversity in the
solar myths, or those of creation, of fire, of water! These variations
are due to multiple causes, which have orientated the imagination now in
one direction, now in another. Let us mention the principal ones: Racial
characteristics--whether the imagination is clear or mobile, poor or
exuberant; the manner of living--totally savage, or on a level of
civilization; the physical environment--external nature cannot be
reflected in the brain of a Hindoo in the same way as in that of a
Scandinavian; and lastly, that assemblage of considerable and unexpected
causes grouped under the term "chance."

The variable combinations of these different factors, with the
predominance of one or the other, explain the multiplicity of the
imaginative conceptions of the world, in contrast to the unity and
simplicity of scientific conceptions.


The form of imagination now occupying our attention by reason of its
non-individual, anonymous, collective character, attains a long
development that we may follow in its successive phases of ascent,
climax, and decline. To begin with, is it necessarily inherent in the
human mind? Are there races or groups of men totally devoid of myths?
which is a slightly different question from that usually asked, "Are
there tribes totally devoid of religious thoughts?" Although it is very
doubtful that there are such now, it is probable that there were in the
beginning, when man had scarcely left the brute level--at least if we
agree with Vignoli[56] that we already find in the higher animals
embryonic forms of animism.

In any event, mythic creation appears early. We can infer this from the
signs of puerility of certain legends. Savages who could not know
themselves--the Iroquois, the Australian aborigines, the natives of the
Andaman Islands--believed that the earth was at first sterile and dry,
all the water having been swallowed by a gigantic frog or toad which was
compelled, by queer stratagems, to regurgitate it. These are little
children's imaginings. Among the Hindoos the same myth takes the form of
an alluring epic--the dragon watching over the celestial waters, of
which he has taken possession, is wounded by Indra after a heroic
battle, and restores them to the earth.

Cosmogonies, Lang remarks, furnish a good example of the development of
myths; it is possible to mark out stages and rounds according to the
degree of culture and intelligence. The natives of Oceania believe that
the world was created and organized by spiders, grasshoppers, and various
birds. More advanced peoples regard powerful animals as gods in disguise
(such are certain Mexican divinities). Later, all trace of animal worship
disappears, and the character of the myth is purely anthropomorphic.[57]
Kühn, in a special work, has shown how the successive stages of social
evolution express themselves in the successive stages of mythology--myths
of cannibals, of hunters, of herders, land-tillers, sailors. Speaking of
pure savagery, Max Müller[58] admits at least two periods--pan-Aryan and
Indo-Iranian--prior to the Vedic period. In the course of this slow
evolution the work of the imagination passes little by little from
infancy, becomes more and more complex, subtle and refined.

In the Aryan race, the Vedic epoch, despite its sacerdotal ritualism, is
considered as the period _par excellence_ of mythic efflorescence. "The
myth," says Taine, "is not here (in the Vedas) a disguise, but an
expression; no language is more true and more supple: it permits a
glimpse of, or rather causes us to discern, the forms of mist, the
movements of the air, change of seasons, all the accidents of sky, fire,
storm: external nature has never found a mode of thought so graceful and
flexible for reflecting itself thereby in all the inexhaustible variety
of her appearances. However changeable nature may be, the imagination is
equally so."[59] It animates everything--not only fire in general,
_Agni_, but also the seven forms of flame, the wood that lights it, the
ten fingers of the sacrificing priest, the prayer itself, and even the
railing surrounding the altar. This is one example among many others.
The partisans of the linguistic theory have been able to maintain that
at this moment every word is a myth, because every word is a name
designating a quality or an act, transformed by the imagination into
substance. Max Müller has translated a page of Hesiod, substituting the
analytic, abstract, rational language of our time for the image-making
names. Immediately, all the mythical material vanishes. Thus, "Selene
kisses the sleeping Endymion" becomes the dry formula, "It is night."
The most skilled linguists often declare themselves unable to change the
pliant tongue of the imaginative age into our algebraic idioms.[60]
Thought by imagery cannot remain itself and at the same time take on a
rational dress.

The mental state that marks the zenith of the free development of the
imagination, is at present met with only in mystics and in some poets.
Language has, however, preserved numerous vestiges of it in current
expressions, the mythic signification of which has been lost--the sun
rises, the sea is treacherous, the wind is mad, the earth is thirsty,

To this triumphant period there succeeds among the races that have made
progress in evolution, i.e., that have been able to rise above the age
of (pure) imagination, the period of waning, of regression, of decline.
In order to understand it and perceive the how and why of it, let us
first note that myths are reducible to two great categories:

a. The explicative myths, arising from utility, from the necessity of
knowing. _These undergo a radical transformation._

b. The non-explicative myths, resulting from a need of luxury, from a
pure desire to create: these undergo only a _partial_ transformation.

Let us follow them in the accomplishment of their destinies.

a. The myths of the first class, answering the various needs of knowing
in order afterwards to act, are much the more numerous.... Is primitive
man by nature curious? The question has been variously answered; thus,
Tylor says yes; Spencer, no.[61] The affirmative and negative answers
are not, perhaps, irreconcilable, if we take account of the differences
in races. Taking it generally, it is hard to believe that he is not
curious--he holds his life at that price. He is in the presence of the
universe just as we are when confronted with an unknown animal or fruit.
Is it useful or hurtful? He has all the more need for a conception of
the world since he feels himself dependent on everything. While our
subordination as regards nature is limited by the knowledge of her laws,
he is on account of his animism in a position similar to ours before an
assembly of persons whom we have to approach or avoid, conciliate or
yield to. It is necessary that he be _practically_ curious--that is
indispensable for his preservation. There has been alleged the
indifference of primitive man to the complicated engines of civilization
(a steamboat, a watch, etc.). This shows, not lack of curiosity, but
absence of intelligence or interest for what he does not consider
immediately useful for his needs.

His conception of the world is a product of the imagination, because no
other is possible for him. The problem is imperatively set, he solves it
as best he can; the myth is a response to a host of theoretical and
practical needs. For him, the imaginative explanation takes the place of
the rational explanation which is yet unborn, and which for great
reasons can not arise--first, because the poverty of his experience,
limited to a small circle, engenders a multitude of erroneous
associations, which remain unbroken in the absence of other experiences
to contradict and shatter them; secondly, because of the extreme
weakness of his logic and especially of his conception of causality,
which most often reduces itself to a _post hoc, ergo propter hoc_.
Whence we have the thorough subjectivity of his interpretation of the
world.[62] In short, primitive man makes without exception or reserve,
and in terms of images, what science makes provisionally, with reserves,
and by means of concepts--namely, hypotheses.

Thus, the explicative myths are as we see, an epitome of a practical
philosophy, proportioned to the requirements of the man of the earliest,
or slightly-cultured ages. Then comes the period of critical
transformation: a slow, progressive substitution of a rational
conception of the world for the imaginative conception. It results from
a work of _depersonification_ of the myth, which little by little loses
its subjective, anthropomorphic character in order to become all the
more objective, without ever succeeding therein completely.

This transformation occurs thanks to two principal supports: methodical
and prolonged observation of phenomena, which suggests the objective
notion of stability and law, opposed to the caprices of animism
(example: the work of the ancient astronomers of the Orient); the
growing power of reflection and of logical rigor, at least in
well-endowed races.

It does not concern the subject in hand to trace here the fortunes of
the old battle whereby the imagination, assailed by a rival power, loses
little by little its position and preponderance in the interpretation of
the world. A few remarks will suffice.

To begin with, the myth is transformed into philosophic speculation, but
without total disappearance, as is seen in the mystic speculations of
the Pythagoreans, in the cosmology of Empedocles, ruled by two
human-like antitheses, Love and Hate. Even to Thales, an observing,
positive spirit that calculates eclipses, the world is full of
_daemons_, remains of primitive animism.[63] In Plato, even leaving out
his theory of Ideas, the employment of myth is not merely a playful
mannerism, but a real survival.

This work of elimination, begun by the philosophers, is more firmly
established in the first attempts of pure science (the Alexandrian
mathematicians; naturalists like Aristotle; certain Greek physicians).
Nevertheless, we know how imaginary concepts remained alive in physics,
chemistry, biology, down to the sixteenth century; we know the bitter
struggle that the two following centuries witnessed against occult
qualities and loose methods. Even in our day, Stallo has been able to
propose to write a treatise "On Myth in Science." Without speaking at
this time of the hypotheses admitted as such and on account of their
usefulness, there yet remain in the sciences many latent signs of
primitive anthropomorphism. At the beginning of the nineteenth century
people believed in several "properties of matter" that we now regard as
merely modes of energy. But this latter notion, an expression of
permanence underneath the various manifestations of nature, is for
science only an abstract, symbolical formula: if we attempt to embody
it, to make it concrete and representable, then, whether we will or no,
it resolves itself into the feeling of muscular effort, that is, takes
on a human character. To produce no other examples, we see that so far
as concerns the last term of this slow regression, the imagination is
not yet completely annulled, although it may have had to recede
incessantly before a more solid and better armed rival.

b. In addition to the explanatory myths, there are those having no claim
to be in this class, although they have perhaps been originally
suggested by some phenomenon of animate or inanimate nature. They are
much less numerous than the others, since they do not answer multiple
necessities of life. Such are the epic or heroic stories, popular tales,
romances (which are found as early as ancient Egypt): it is the first
appearance of that form of esthetic activity destined later to become
literature. Here, the mythic activity suffers only a superficial
metamorphosis--the essence is not changed. Literature is mythology
transformed and adapted to the variable conditions of civilization. If
this statement appear doubtful or disrespectful, we should note the

Historically, from myths wherein there figure at first only divine
personages, there arise the epics of the Hindoos, Greeks, Scandinavians,
etc., in which the gods and heroes are confounded, live in the same
world, on a level. Little by little the divine character is rubbed out;
the myth approaches the ordinary conditions of human life, until it
becomes the romantic novel, and finally the realistic story.

Psychologically, the imaginative work that has at first created the gods
and superior beings before whom man bows because he has unconsciously
produced them, becomes more and more humanized as it becomes conscious;
but it cannot cease being a projection of the feelings, ideas, and
nature of man into the fictitious beings upon whom the belief of their
creator and of his hearers confers an illusory and fleeting existence.
The gods have become puppets whose master man feels himself, and whom he
treats as he likes. Throughout the manifold techniques, esthetics,
documentary collections, reproductions of the social life, the creative
activity of the earliest time remains at bottom unchanged. Literature is
a decadent and rationalized mythology.


Does the mythic activity of ancient times still exist among civilized
peoples, unmodified as in literary creation, but in its pure form, as a
non-individual, collective, anonymous, unconscious, work? Yes; as the
popular imagination, when creating legends. In passing from natural
phenomena to historic events and persons, the constructive imagination
takes a slightly different position which we may characterize thus:
legend is to myth what illusion is to hallucination.

The psychological mechanism is the same in both cases. Illusion and
legend are partial imaginations, hallucination and myth are total
imaginations. Illusion may vary in all shades between exact perception
and hallucination; legend can run all the way from exact history to pure
myth. The difference between illusion and hallucination is sometimes
imperceptible; the same is sometimes true of legend and myth. Sensory
illusion is produced by an addition of images changing perception;
legend is also produced by an addition of images changing the historic
personage or event. The only difference, then, is in the material used;
in one case, a datum of sense, a natural phenomenon; in the other, a
fact of history, a human event.

The psychological genesis of legends being thus established in general,
what, according to the facts, are the unconscious processes that the
imagination employs for creating them? We may distinguish two principal

The first process is a fusion or combination. The myth precedes the
fact; the historical personage or event enters into the mould of a
pre-existing myth. "It is necessary that the mythic form be fashioned
before one may pour into it, in a more or less fluid state, the historic
metal." Imagination had created a solar mythology long before it could
be incarnated by the Greeks in Hercules and his exploits. "There was
historically a Roland, perhaps even an Arthur, but the greater part of
the great deeds that the poetry of the Middle Ages attributes to them
had been accomplished long before by mythological heroes whose very
names had been forgotten."[64] At one time the man is completely hidden
by the myth and becomes absolutely legendary; again, he assumes only an
aureole that transfigures him. This is exactly what occurs in the
simpler phenomenon of sensory illusion: now the real (the perception) is
swamped by the images, is transformed, and the objective element reduced
to almost nothing; at another time, the objective element remains
master, but with numerous deformations.

The second process is idealization, which can act conjointly with the
other. Popular imagination incarnates in a real man its ideal of
heroism, of loyalty, of love, of piety, or of cowardice, cruelty,
wickedness, and other abnormalities. The process is more complex. It
presupposes in addition to mythic creation a labor of abstraction,
through which a dominating characteristic of the historic personage is
chosen and everything else is suppressed, cast into oblivion: the ideal
becomes a center of attraction about which is formed the legend, the
romantic tale. Compare the Alexander, the Charlemagne, the Cid of the
Middle Age traditions to the character of history.

Even much nearer to us, this process of extreme simplification--which
the law of mental inertia or of least effort is sufficient to
explain--always persists: Lucretia Borgia remains the type of
debauchery, Henry IV of good fellowship, etc. The protests of historians
and the documentary evidence that they produce avail nothing: the work
of the imagination resists everything.

To conclude: We have just passed over a period of mental evolution
wherein the creative imagination reigns exclusively, explains
everything, is sufficient for everything. It has been said that the
imagination is "a temporary derangement." It seems so to us, although it
is often an effort toward wisdom, i.e., toward the comprehension of
things. It would be more correct to say, with Tylor, that it represents
a state intermediate between that of a man of our time, prosaic and
well-to-do, and that of a furious madman, or of a man in the delirium of


[48] Primitive man has been defined as "he for whom sensuous data
and images surpass in importance rational concepts." From this
standpoint, many contemporary poets, novelists, and artists would be
primitive. The mental state of the human individual is not enough
for such a determination; we must also take account of the
(comparative) simplicity of the social environment.

[49] Let us mention the euhemeristic theory of Herbert Spencer,
taken up recently by Grant Allen (_The Evolution of the Idea of
God_, 1897), who brings down all religious and mythic concepts from
a single origin--the worship of the dead.

[50] "When I tried to briefly characterize mythology in its inner
nature, I called it a disease of language rather than a disease of
thought. The expression was strange but intentionally so, meant to
arouse attention and to provoke opposition. For me, language and
thought are inseparable." _Nouvelles études de Mythologie_, p. 51.

[51] Vignoli, _Mito e Scienza_, p. 27.

[52] Marillier, Preface to the French translation of Andrew Lang's
_Myth, Ritual, and Religion_.

[53] On this point consult a work very rich in information, W.
Crooke's book, _Popular Religion and Folk-lore of Northern India_,

[54] "The Indian traversing the Montaña never feels himself alone.
Legions of beings accompany him. All of the nature to whom he owes
his soul speaks to him through the noise of the wind, in the roaring
of the waterfall. The insect like the bird--everything, even to the
bending twig wet with dew--for him has language, distinct
personality. The forest is alive in its depths, has caprices,
periods of anger; it avoids the thicket under the tread of the
huntsman, or again presses him more closely, drags him into infected
swamps, into closed bogs, where miserable goblins exhaust all their
witchcraft upon him, drink his blood by attaching their lips to the
wounds made by briers. The Indian knows all that; he knows those
dread genii by name." Monnier, _Des Andes au Para_, p. 300.

[55] See Part I, Chapter IV.

[56] _Op. cit._, pp. 23-24.

[57] Lang, _op. cit._, I, 162, and _passim_.

[58] Max Müller, _op cit._, p. 12.

[59] _Nouveaux Essais_, p. 320.

[60] See Lang, _Myth, Ritual and Religion_, I, p. 234, a passage
from the _Rig-Veda_, with four very different translations by Max
Müller, Wilson, Benfrey, and Langlois.

[61] On curiosity as the beginning of knowledge, compare the
position held by Plato. (Tr.)

[62] On this general subject consult the interesting though somewhat
general article by Professor John Dewey, "The Interpretation of the
Savage Mind," in the _Psychological Review_, May, 1903. The author
justly criticises the current description of savages in negative
terms, and contends that there is general misunderstanding of the
true nature of the savage and of his activities. (Tr.)

[63] It is now well accepted that Thales cannot be regarded as
propounding a materialistic theory when he declares that everything
is derived from water; for with him, "water" stands not merely for
the substance that we call chemically "H2O," but for the "spirit
that is in water" as well--the water-spirit is the _Grundprincip_.

[64] Max Müller, _op. cit._, 39, 47-48, 59-60.



We now pass from primitive to civilized man, from collective to
individual creation, the characters of which it remains for us to study
as we find them in great inventors who exhibit them on a large scale.
Fortunately, we may dismiss the treatment of the oft-discussed,
never-solved problem of the psychological nature of genius. As we have
already noted, there enter into its composition factors other than the
creative imagination, although the latter is not the least among them.
Besides, great men being exceptions, anomalies, or as the current
expression has it, "spontaneous variations," we may ask _in limine_
whether their psychology is explicable by means of simple formulæ, as
with the average man, or whether even monographs teach us no more
concerning their nature than general theories that are never applicable
to all cases. Taking genius, then, as synonymous with great inventor,
accepting it _de facto_ historically and psychologically, our task is
limited to the attempt to separate characters that seem, from
observation and experiment, to belong to it as peculiarly its own.

Putting aside vague dissertations and dithyrambics in favor of theories
with a scientific tendency as to the nature of genius, we meet first the
one attributing to it a pathological origin. Hinted at in antiquity
(Aristotle, Seneca, etc.), suggested in the oft-expressed comparison
between inspiration and insanity, it has reached, as we know--through
timid, reserved, and partial statements (Lélut)--its complete expression
in the famous formula of Moreau de Tours, "Genius is a neurosis."

Neuropathy was for him the exaggeration of vital properties and
consequently the most favorable condition for the hatching of works of
genius. Later, Lombroso, in a book teeming with doubtful or manifestly
false evidence, finding his predecessor's theory too vague, attempts to
give it more precision by substituting for neurosis in general a
specific neurosis--larvated epilepsy. Alienists, far from eagerly
accepting this view, have set themselves to combat it and to maintain
that Lombroso has compromised everything in wanting to make the term too
precise. There are several possible hypotheses, they say: either the
neuropathic state is the direct, immediate cause of which the higher
faculties of genius are effects; or, the intellectual superiority,
through the excessive labor and excitation it involves, causes
neuropathic disturbances; or, there is no relation of cause and effect
between genius and neurosis, but mere coëxistence, since there are found
very mediocre neuropaths, and men above the average without a neurotic
blemish; or, the two states--the one psychic, the other
physiological--are both effects, resulting from organic conditions that
produce according to circumstances genius, insanity, and divers nervous
troubles. Every one of these hypotheses can allege facts in its favor.
We must, however, recognize that in most men of genius are found so many
peculiarities, physical eccentricities and disorders of all kinds that
the pathologic theory retains much probability.

There remain for consideration the sane geniuses who, despite many
efforts and subtleties, have not yet been successfully brought under the
foregoing formula, and who have made possible the enunciation of another
theory. Recently, Nordau, rejecting the theory of his master Lombroso,
has maintained that it is just as reasonable to say that "genius is a
neurosis" as that "athleticism is a cardiopathy" because many athletes
are affected with heart disease. For him, "the essential elements of
genius are judgment and will." Following this definition, he establishes
the following hierarchy of men of genius: At the highest rung of the
ladder are those in whom judgment and will are equally powerful; men of
action who make world-history (Alexander, Cromwell, Napoleon)--these are
masters of men. On the second level are found the geniuses of judgment,
with no hyper-development of will--these are masters of matter (Pasteur,
Helmholtz, Röntgen). On the third step are geniuses of judgment without
energetic will--thinkers and philosophers. What then shall we do with
the emotional geniuses--the poets and artists? Theirs is not genius in
the strict sense, "because it creates nothing new and exercises no
influence on phenomena." Without discussing the value of this
classification, without examining whether it is even possible,--since
there is no common measure between Alexander, Pasteur, Shakespeare, and
Spinoza,--and whether, on the other hand, common opinion is not right in
putting on the same level the great creators, whoever they be, solely
because they are far above the average, this remark is absolutely
necessary: In the definition above cited the creative faculty _par
excellence_--imagination--necessary to all inventors, is entirely left

We can, however, derive some benefit from this arbitrary division.
Although it is impossible to admit that "emotional geniuses" create
nothing new and have no influence on society, they do form a special
group. Creative work requires of them a nervous excitability and a
predominance of affective states that rapidly become morbid. In this way
they have provided the pathological theory with most of its facts. It
would perhaps be necessary to recognize distinctions between the various
forms of invention. They require very different organic and psychic
conditions in order that some may profit by morbid dispositions that are
far from useful to others. This point should deserve a special study
never made hitherto.


We shall reduce to three the characters ordinarily met in most great
inventors. No one of them is without exception.

1. _Precocity_, which is reducible to innateness. The natural bent
becomes manifest as soon as circumstances allow--it is the sign of the
true vocation. The story is the same in all cases: at one moment the
flash occurs; but this is not as frequent as is supposed. False
vocations abound. If we deduct those attracted through imitation,
environmental influence, exhortations and advice, chance, the attraction
of immediate gain, aversion to a career imposed from without which they
shun and adoption of an opposite one, will there remain many natural and
irresistible vocations?

We have seen above that[65] the passage from reproductive to
constructive imagination takes place toward the end of the third year.
According to some authors, this initial period should be followed by a
depression about the fifth year; thenceforward the upward progress is
continuous. But the creative faculty, from its nature and content,
develops in a very clear, chronological order. Music, plastic arts,
poetry, mechanical invention, scientific imagination--such is the usual
order of appearance.

In music, with the exception of a few child-prodigies, we hardly find
personal creation before the age of twelve or thirteen. As examples of
precocity may be cited: Mozart, at the age of three; Mendelssohn, five;
Haydn, four; Handel, twelve; Weber, twelve; Schubert, eleven; Cherubini,
thirteen; and many others. Those late in developing--Beethoven, Wagner,
etc.--are fewer by far.[66]

In the plastic arts, vocation and creative aptitude are shown
perceptibly later, on the average about the fourteenth year: Giotto, at
ten; Van Dyck, ten; Raphael, eight; Guerchin, eight; Greuze, eight;
Michaelangelo, thirteen; Albrecht Dürer, fifteen; Bernini, twelve;
Rubens and Jordaens being also precocious.

In poetry we find no work having any individual character before
sixteen. Chatterton died at that age, perhaps the only example of so
young a poet leaving any reputation. Schiller and Byron also began at
sixteen. Besides this, we know that the talent for versification, at
least as imitation, is very early in developing.

In mechanical arts children have early a remarkable capacity for
understanding and imitating. At nine, Poncelet bought a watch that was
out of order in order to study it, then took it apart and put it
together correctly. Arago tells that at the same age Fresnel was called
by his comrades a "man of genius," because he had determined by correct
experiments "the length and caliber of children's elder-wood toy cannon
giving the longest range; also, which green or dry woods used in the
manufacture of bows have most strength and lasting power." In general,
the average of mechanical invention is later, and scarcely comes earlier
than that of scientific discovery.

The form of abstract imagination requisite for invention in the sciences
has no great personal value before the twentieth year: there are a
goodly number, however, who have given proof of it before that
age--Pascal, Newton, Leibniz, Gauss, Auguste Comte, etc. Almost all are

These chronological variations result not from chance, but from
psychological conditions necessary for the development of each form of
imagination. We know that the acquisition of musical sounds is prior to
speech: many children can repeat a scale correctly before they are able
to talk. On the other hand, as dissolution follows evolution in inverse
order,[67] aphasic patients lacking the most common words, can
nevertheless sing. Sound-images are thus organized before all others,
and the creative power when acting in this direction finds very early
material for its use. For the plastic arts a longer apprenticeship is
necessary for the education of the senses and movements. To acquire
manual dexterity one must become skilled in observing form, combinations
of lines and colors, and apt at reproducing them. Poetry and first
attempts at novel-writing presuppose some experience of the passions of
human life and a certain reflection of which the child is incapable.
Invention in the mechanic arts, as in the plastic arts, requires the
education of the senses and movements; and, further, calculation,
rational combination of means, rigorous adaptation to practical
necessities. Lastly, scientific imagination is nothing without a high
development of the capacity for abstraction, which is a matter of slow
growth. Mathematicians are the most precocious because their material is
the most simple; they have no need, as in the case of the experimental
sciences, of an extended knowledge of facts, which is acquired only with

At this period of its development the imagination is in large part
imitation. We must explain this paradox. The creator begins by
imitating: this is such a well-known fact that it is needless to give
proof of it, and it is subject to few exceptions. The most original mind
is, at first, consciously or unconsciously somebody's disciple. It is
necessarily so. Nature gives only one thing, "the creative instinct;"
that is, the need of producing in a determined line. This internal
factor alone is insufficient. Aside from the fact that the imagination
at first has at its disposal only a very limited material, it lacks
technique, the processes indispensable for realizing itself. As long as
the creator has not found the suitable form into which to cast his
creation he must indeed borrow it from another; his ideas must suffer
the necessity of a provisional shelter. This explains how it is that
later the inventor, reaching full consciousness of himself, in order to
complete mastery of his methods, often breaks with his models, and burns
what he at first adorned.


A second character consists of the necessity, the fatality of creation.
Great inventors feel that they have a task to accomplish; they feel that
they are charged with a mission. On this point we have a large number of
testimonials and avowals. In the darkest days of his life Beethoven,
haunted by the thought of suicide, wrote, "Art alone has kept me back.
It seemed to me that I could not leave the world before producing all
that I felt within me." Ordinarily, inventors are apt in only one line;
even when they have a certain versatility, they remain bound to their
own peculiar manner--they have their mark--like Michaelangelo; or, if
they attempt to change it, if they try to be unfaithful as respects
their vocation, they fall much below themselves.

This characteristic of irresistible impulsion which makes the genius
create not because he wants to, but because he must do it, has often
been likened to instinct. This very widespread view has been examined
before (Part I, Chapter ii).

We have seen that there is no creative instinct in general, but
_particular_ tendencies, orientated in a definite direction, which in
most respects resemble instinct. It is contrary to experience and logic
to admit that the creative genius follows any path whatever at his
choice--a proposition that Weismann, in his horror of inheritance of
acquired characters (which are a kind of innateness) is not afraid to
support. That is true only of the man of talent, a matter of education
and circumstances. The distinction between these two orders of
creators--the great and the ordinary--has been made too often to need
repetition, although it is proper to recognize that it is not always
easy in practice, that there are names that cause us to hesitate, which
we class somewhat at hazard. Yet genius remains, as Schopenhauer used to
say, _monstrum per excessum_; excessive development in one direction.
Hypertrophy of a special aptitude often makes genius fall, as far as the
others are concerned, below the average level. Even those exceptional
men who have given proof of multiple aptitudes, such as Vinci,
Michaelangelo, Goethe, etc., always have a predominating tendency which,
in common opinion, sums them up.


A third characteristic is the clearly defined _individuality_ of the
great creator. He is the man of his work; he has done this or that: that
is his mark. He is "representative." There is no other opinion as to
this; what is a subject of discussion is the _origin_, not the nature of
this individuality. The Darwinian theory as to the all-powerful action
of environment has led to the question whether the representative
character of great inventors comes from themselves, and from them alone,
or must not rather be sought in the unconscious influence of the race
and epoch of which they are at a given instant only brighter sparks.
This debate goes beyond the bounds of our subject. To decide whether
social changes are due mostly to the accumulated influences of some
individuals and their initiative, or to the environment, to
circumstances, to hereditary transmission, is not a problem for
psychology to solve. We can not, however, totally avoid this discussion,
for it touches the very springs of creation.

Is the inventive genius the highest degree of personality or a synthesis
of masses?--the result of himself or of others?--the expression of an
individual activity or of a collective activity? In short, should we
look for his representative character within him or without? Both these
alternatives have authoritative supporters.

For Schopenhauer, Carlyle (_Hero-worship_), Nietzsche, _et al._, the
great man is an autonomous product, a being without a peer, a demigod,
"_Uebermensch_." He can be explained neither by heredity, nor by

For others (Taine, Spencer, Grant, Allen, _et al._), the important
factor is seen in the race and external conditions. Goethe held that a
whole family line is summarized some day in a single one of its members,
and a whole people in one or several men. For him, Louis XIV and
Voltaire are respectively the French king and writer _par excellence_.
"The alleged great men," says Tolstoi, "are only the labels of history,
they give their names to events."[68]

Each party explains the same facts according to its own principle and in
its own peculiar way. The great historic epochs are rich in great men
(the Greek republics of the fourth century B. C., the Roman Republic,
the Renaissance, French Revolution, etc.). Why? Because, say some,
periods put into ferment by the deep working of the masses make this
blossoming possible. Because, say the others, this flowering modifies
profoundly the social and intellectual condition of the masses and
raises their level. For the former the ferment is deep down; for the
latter it is on top.

Without presuming to solve this vexed question, I lean toward the view
of individualism pure and simple. It seems to me very difficult to admit
that the great creator is only the result of his environment. Since this
influence acts on many others, it is very necessary that, in great men,
there should be in addition a personal factor. Besides, in opposition to
the exclusively environmental theory we may bring the well-known fact
that most innovators and inventors at first arouse opposition. We know
the invariable sentence on everything novel--it is "false" or "bad;"
then it is adopted with the statement that it had been known for a long
time. In the hypothesis of collective invention, it seems that the mass
of people should applaud inventors, recognizing itself in them, seeing
its confused thought take form and body: but most often the contrary
happens. The misoneism of crowds seems to me one of the strongest
arguments in favor of the individual character of invention.

We can doubtless distinguish two cases--in the first, the creator sums
up and clearly translates the aspirations of his _milieu_; in the
second, he is in opposition to it because he goes beyond it. How many
innovators have been disappointed because they came before their time!
But this distinction does not reach to the bottom of the question, and
is not at all sufficient as an answer.

Let us leave this problem, which, on account of its complexity, we can
hardly solve through peremptory reasoning, and let us try to examine
_objectively_ the relation between creation and environment in order
that we may see to what extent the creative imagination, without losing
its individual character--which is impossible--depends on the
intellectual and social surrounding.

If, with the American psychologists,[69] we term the disposition for
innovating a "spontaneous variation"--a Darwinian term explaining
nothing, but convenient--we may enunciate the following law:

_The tendency toward spontaneous variation (invention) is always in
inverse ratio to the simplicity of the environment._

The savage environment is in its nature very simple, consequently
homogeneous. The lower races show a much smaller degree of
differentiation than the higher; in them, as Jastrow says, physical and
psychic maturity is more precocious, and as the period just before the
adult age is the plastic period _per se_, this diminishes the chances of
a departure from the common type. Thus comparison between whites and
blacks, between primitive and civilized peoples, shows that, for equal
populations, there is an enormous disproportion as to the number of

The barbarian environment is much more complex and heterogeneous: it
contains all the rudiments of civilized life. Consequently, it favors
more individual variations and is richer in superior men. But these
variations are rarely produced outside of a very restricted
field--political, military, religious. So it seems impossible to agree
with Joly[70] that neither primitive nor barbarian peoples produce
superior minds, "unless," as he says, "by this name we mean those that
simply surpass their congeners." But is there a criterion other than
that? I see none. Greatness is altogether a relative idea; and would not
our great creators seem, to beings better endowed than we, very small?

The civilized environment, requiring division of labor and consequently
a constantly growing complexity of heterogeneous elements, is an open
door for all vocations. Doubtless, the social spirit always retains
something of that tendency toward stagnation that is the rule in lower
social orders; it is more favorable to tradition than to innovation. But
the inevitable necessity of a warm competition between individuals and
peoples is a natural antidote for that natural inertia; it favors useful
variations. Moreover, civilization means evolution; consequently the
conditions under which the imagination is active change with the times.
Let us suppose, Weismann justly says, that in the Samoan Islands there
were born a child having the singular and extraordinary genius of
Mozart. What could he accomplish? At the most, extend the gamut of three
or four tones to seven, and create a few more complex melodies; but he
would be as unable to compose symphonies as Archimedes would have been
to invent an electric dynamo. How many creators have been wrecked
because the conditions necessary for their inventions were lacking?
Roger Bacon foresaw several of our great discoveries; Cardan, the
differential calculus; Van Helmont, chemistry; and it has been possible
to write a book on the forerunners of Darwin.[71] We talk so much of the
free flight of imagination, of the all-comprehensive power of the
creator, that we forget the sociological conditions--not to mention
others--on which they are every moment dependent. In this respect, no
invention is personal in the strict sense; there always remains in it a
little of that anonymous collaboration the highest expression of which,
as we have seen, is the mythic activity.

By way of summary, and whatever be the causes, we may say that there is
a universal tendency in all living matter toward variation, whether we
consider vegetables, animals, or the physical and mental man. The need
of innovating is only a special case, rare in the lower races, frequent
in the higher. This tendency toward variation is fundamental or
superficial: As fundamental, it corresponds to genius, and survives
through processes analogous to natural selection, i.e., by its own
power. As superficial, it corresponds to talent, survives and prospers
chiefly through the help of circumstances and environment. Here, the
orientation comes from without, not from within. According as the spirit
of the time inclines rather to poetry or painting, or music, or
scientific research, or industry, or military art, minds of the second
order are dragged into the current--showing that a goodly part of their
power is in the aptness, not for invention, but for _imitation_.


The determination of the characters belonging to the inventive genius
has necessitated some seemingly irrelevant remarks on the action of the
environment. Let us return to invention, strictly so-called.

For inventing there is always required a natural aptitude, sometimes, a
happy chance.

The natural disposition should be accepted as a fact. Why does a man
create? Because he is capable of forming new combinations of ideas.
However naïve this answer may be, there is no other. The only thing
possible, is the determination of the conditions necessary and
sufficient for producing novel combinations: this has been done in the
first part of this book, and there is no occasion for going over it
again. But there is another aspect in creative work to be
considered--its psychological _mechanism_, and the form of its

Every normal person creates little or much. He may, in his ignorance,
invent what has been already done a thousand times. Even if this is not
a creation as regards the species, it is none the less such for the
individual. It is wrong to say, as has been said, that an invention "is
a new and important idea." _Novelty_ only is essential--that is the
psychological mark: importance and utility are accessory, merely social
marks. Invention is thus unduly limited when we attribute it to great
inventors only. At this moment, however, we are concerned only with
these, and in them the mechanism of invention is easier to study.

We have already seen how false is the theory that holds that there is
always a sudden stroke of inspiration, followed by a period of rapid or
slow execution. On the contrary, observation reveals many processes
that apparently differ less in the _content_ of invention than according
to individual temperament. I distinguish two general processes of which
the rest are variations. In all creation, great or small, there is a
directing idea, an "ideal"--understanding the word not in its
transcendental sense, but merely as synonymous with end or goal--or more
simply, a problem to solve. The _locus_ of the idea, of the given
problem, is not the same in the two processes. In the one I term
"complete" the ideal is at the beginning: in the "abridged" it is in the
middle. There are also other differences which the following tables will
make more clear:

  _First Process_ (_complete_).

  1st phase                 2nd phase        3d phase
  IDEA                      INVENTION,       VERIFICATION,
  (commencement)             or                or
  Special incubation        DISCOVERY        APPLICATION
  of more or less           (end)

The idea excites attention and takes a fixed character. The period of
brooding begins. For Newton it lasted seventeen years, and at the time
of definitely establishing his discovery by calculation he was so
overcome with emotion that he had to assign to another the task of
completing it. The mathematician Hamilton tells us that his method of
quaternians burst upon him one day, completely finished, while he was
near a bridge in Dublin. "In that moment I had the result of fifteen
years' labor." Darwin gathers material during his voyages, spends a
long time observing plants and animals, then through the chance reading
of Malthus' book, hits upon and formulates his theory. In literary and
artistic creation similar examples are frequent.[72]

The second phase is only an instant, but essential--the moment of
discovery, when the creator exclaims his "Eureka!"[73] With it, the work
is virtually or really ended.

  _Second Process_ (_abridged_).

  1st phase                 2nd phase                 3rd phase
  General preparation       IDEA (commencement)       CONSTRUCTIVE
  (unconscious)             INSPIRATION                 and
                            ERUPTION                  DEVELOPING

This is the process in intuitive minds. Such seems to have been the case
of Mozart, Poe, etc. Without attempting what would be a tedious
enumeration of examples, we may say that this form of creation comprises
two classes--those coming to maturity through an internal impulse, a
sudden stroke of inspiration, and those who are suddenly illumined by
chance. The two processes differ superficially rather than essentially.
Let us briefly compare them.

With some, the first phase is long and fully conscious; in others it
seems negligible, equal to zero--there is nothing of it because there
exists a natural or acquired tendency toward equilibrium. "For a long
time," says Schumann, "I had the habit of racking my brain, and now I
scarcely need to scratch my forehead. Everything runs naturally."[74]

The second phase is almost the same in both cases: it is only an
instant, but it is essential--it is the moment of imaginative synthesis.

Lastly, the third phase is very short for some, because the main labor
is already done, and there remains only the finishing touch or the
verification. It is long for others, because they must pass from the
perceived idea to complete realization, and because the preparatory work
is faulty; so that for these the second creative process is shortened in
appearance only.

Such seem to me the two principal forms of the mechanism of creation.
These are genera; they include species and varieties that a patient and
minute study of the processes peculiar to various inventors would reveal
to us. We must bear in mind that this work makes no claim of being a
monograph on invention, but merely a sketch.[75]

The two processes above described seem to correspond on the whole to
the oft-made distinction between the intuitive or spontaneous, and the
combining or reflective imagination.

The intuitive, essentially synthetic form, is found principally in the
purely imaginative types, children and savages. The mind proceeds from
the whole to details. The generative idea resembles those concepts
which, in the sciences, are of wide range because they condense a
generalization rich in consequences. The subject is at first
comprehended as a whole; development is organic, and we may compare it
to the embryological process that causes a living being to arise from
the fertilized ovum, analogous to an immanent logic. As a type of this
creative form there has often been given a letter wherein Mozart
explains his mode of conception. Recently (and that is why I do not
reprint it here) it has been suspected of being apocryphal. I regret
this--it was worthy of being authentic. According to Goethe,
Shakespeare's _Hamlet_ could have been created only through an intuitive
process, etc.

The combining, discursive imagination proceeds from details to the
vaguely-perceived unity. It starts from a fragment that serves as a
matrix, and becomes completed little by little. An adventure, an
anecdote, a scene, a rapid glance, a detail, suggests a literary or
artistic creation; but the organic form does not appear in a trice. In
science, Kepler furnishes a good example of this combining imagination.
It is known that he devoted a part of his life trying strange
hypotheses, until the day when, having discovered the elliptical orbit
of Mars, all his former work took shape and became an organized system.
Did we want to make use once more of an embryological comparison, it
would be necessary to look for it in the strange conceptions of ancient
cosmogonies: they believed that from an earthly slime arose parts of
bodies and separate organs which through a mysterious attraction and
happy chance ended by sticking together, and forming living bodies.[76]

It is an accepted view that of these two modes, one, the abridged or
intuitive process, is superior to the other. I confess to having held
this prejudice. On examination, I find it doubtful, even false. There is
a _difference_, not any "higher" and "lower."

First of all, both these forms of creation are necessary. The intuitive
process can suffice for an invention of short duration: a rhyme, a
story, a profile, a _motif_, an ornamental stroke, a little mechanical
contrivance, etc. But as soon as the work requires time and development
the discursive process becomes absolutely necessary: with many inventors
one easily perceives the change from one form to the other. We have seen
that in the case of Chopin, "creation was spontaneous, miraculous,"
coming complete and sudden. But George Sand adds: "The crisis over, then
commenced the most heartrending labor at which I have ever been
present," and she pictures him to us agonized, for days and weeks,
running after the bits of lost inspiration. Goethe, likewise, in a
letter to Humboldt regarding his Faust, which occupied him for sixty
years, full of interruptions and gaps: "The difficulty has been to get
through strength of will what is really to be gotten only by a
spontaneous act of nature." Zola, according to his biographer, Toulouse,
"imagines a novel, always starting out with a general idea that
dominates the work; then, from induction to induction, he draws out of
it the characters and all the story."

To sum up: Pure intuition and pure combination are exceptional;
ordinarily, it is a mixed process in which one of the two elements
prevails and permits its qualification. If we note, in addition, that it
would be easy to group under these two headings names of the first rank,
we shall conclude that the difference is altogether in the _mechanism_,
not in the _nature_ of creation, and is consequently accessory; and that
this difference is reducible to natural dispositions, which we may
contrast as follows:

Ready-witted minds,          Logically-developing
  excelling in conception,     minds, excelling in
  making the whole almost      elaboration.
  out of one piece.

Work primarily unconscious.  Patience the preponderating

                             Work primarily conscious.

Actions quick.               Actions slow.


"Were we to raise monuments to inventors in the arts and sciences, there
would be fewer statues to men than to children, animals, and especially
_fortune_." In this wise expressed himself one of the sage thinkers of
the eighteenth century, Turgot. The importance of the last factor has
been much exaggerated. Chance may be taken in two senses--one general,
the other narrow.

(1) In its broad meaning, chance depends on entirely internal, purely
psychic circumstances. We know that one of the best conditions for
inventing is abundance of material, accumulated experience,
knowledge--which augment the chances of original association of ideas.
It has even been possible to maintain that the nature of memory implies
the capacity of creating in a special direction. The revelations of
inventors or of their biographers leave no doubt as to the necessity of
a large number of sketches, trials, preliminary drawings, no matter
whether it is a matter of industry, commerce, a machine, a poem, an
opera, a picture, a building, a plan of campaign, etc. "Genius for
discovery," says Jevons, depends on the number of notions and chance
thoughts coming to the inventor's mind. To be fertile in
hypotheses--that is the first requirement for finding something new. The
inventor's brain must be full of forms, of melodies, of mechanical
agents, of commercial combinations, of figures, etc., according to the
nature of his work. "But it is very rare that the ideas we find are
exactly those we were seeking. In order to find, _we must think along
other lines_."[77] Nothing is more true.

So much for chance within: it is indisputable, whatever may have been
said of it, but it depends finally on individuality--from it arises the
non-anticipated synthesis of ideas. The abundance of memory-ideas, we
know, is not a sufficient condition for creation; it is not even a
necessary condition. It has been remarked that a relative ignorance is
sometimes useful for invention: it favors assurance. There are
inventions, especially scientific and industrial, that could not have
been made had the inventors been arrested by the ruling and presumably
invincible dogmas. The inventor was all the more free the more he was
unaware of them. Then, as it was quite necessary to bow before the
accomplished fact, theory was broadened to include the new discovery and
explain it.

(2) Chance, in the narrow sense, is a fortunate occurrence stimulating
invention: but to attribute to it the greater part, is a partial,
erroneous view. Here, what we call chance, is the meeting and
convergence of _two_ factors--one internal (individual genius), the
other, external (the fortuitous occurrence).

It is impossible to determine all that invention owes to chance in this
sense. In primitive humanity its influence must have been enormous: the
use of fire, the manufacture of weapons, of utensils, the casting of
metals: all that came about through accidents as simple as, for example,
a tree falling across a stream suggesting the first idea of a bridge.

In historic times--and to keep merely to the modern period--the
collection of authentic facts would fill a large volume. Who does not
know of Newton's apple, Galileo's lamp, Galvani's frog? Huygens declared
that, were it not for an unforeseen combination of circumstances, the
invention of the telescope would require "a superhuman genius;" it is
known that we owe it to children who were playing with pieces of glass
in an optician's shop. Schönbein discovered ozone, thanks to the
phosphorous odor of air traversed by electric sparks. The discoveries of
Grimaldi and of Fresnel in regard to interferences, those of Faraday, of
Arago, of Foucault, of Fraunhofer, of Kirchoff, and of hundreds of
others owed something to "fortune." It is said that the sight of a crab
suggested to Watt the idea of an ingenious machine. To chance, also,
many poets, novelists, dramatists, and artists have owed the best part
of their inspirations: literature and the arts abound in fictitious
characters whose real originals are known.

So much for the external, fortuitous factor; its rôle is clear. That of
the internal factor is less so. It is not at all apparent to the
ordinary mind, escaping the unreflecting. Yet it is extremely important.
The same fortuitous event passes by millions of men without exciting
anything. How many of Pisa's inhabitants had seen the lamp of their
cathedral before Galileo! He does not necessarily find who wants to
find. The happy chance comes only to those worthy of it. In order to
profit thereby, one must first possess the spirit of observation,
wide-awake attention, that isolates and fixates the accident; then, if
it is a matter of scientific or practical inventions, the penetration
that seizes upon relations and finds unforeseen resemblances; if it
concerns esthetic productions, the imagination that constructs,
organizes, gives life.

Without repeating an evident truism, although it is often misunderstood,
we ought to end by remarking that _chance is an occasion for, not an
agent of, creation_.


[65] See above, Chapter II.

[66] Some of these and the following figures are borrowed from
Oelzelt-Newin, _op. cit._, pp. 70 ff.

[67] Compare the well-known theory of Dr. Hughlings-Jackson. (Tr.)

[68] For an elaborate and interesting discussion of this subject,
see Tolstoi's _Physiology of War_. As showing the later trend of
thought on this general theme, see the excellent summary by
Professor Seligman, _The Economic Interpretation of History_. (Tr.)

[69] William James, _The Will to Believe and other Essays_, pp. 218
ff.; Jastrow, _Psych. Rev._, May, 1898, p. 307; J. Royce, _ibid._,
March, 1898; Baldwin, _Social and Ethical Interpretations_, etc.

[70] Joly, _Psychologie des grands hommes_.

[71] Osborn, _From the Greeks to Darwin_.

[72] Such, according to Binet and Passy, seem to be the cases of the
Goncourts, Pailleron, etc. See "Psychologie des auteurs
dramatiques," in _L'année psychologique_, I, 96.

[73] Compare the striking instance of this moment as given by
Froebel, in his _Autobiography_, in connection with his idea of the
Kindergarten. (Tr.)

[74] Quoted by Arréat, _Mémoire et Imagination_, p. 118. (Paris, F.

[75] Paulhan ("De l'invention," _Rev. Philos._, December, 1898, pp.
590 ff.) distinguishes three kinds of development in invention: (1)
Spontaneous or reasoned--the directing idea persists to the end; (2)
transformation, which comprises several contradictory evolutions
succeeding and replacing one another in consequence of impressions
and feelings; (3) deviation, which is a composite of the two
preceding forms.

[76] Cf. the well-known doctrine of Empedocles. (Tr.)

[77] P. Souriau, _Théorie de l'invention_, pp. 6-7.



Is imagination, so often called "a capricious faculty," subject to some
law? The question thus asked is too simple, and we must make it more

As the direct cause of invention, great or small, the imagination acts
without assignable determination; in this sense it is what is known as
"spontaneity"--a vague term, which we have attempted to make clear. Its
appearance is irreducible to any law; it results from the often
fortuitous convergence of various factors previously studied.

Leaving aside the moment of origin, does the inventive power, considered
in its individual and specific development, seem to follow any law, or,
if this term appear too ambitious, does it present, in the course of its
evolution, any perceptible regularity? Observation separates out an
empirical law; that is, extracts directly an abridged formula that is
only a condensation of facts. We may enunciate it thus: The creative
imagination in its complete development passes through two periods
separated by a critical phase: a period of autonomy or efflorescence, a
critical moment, a period of definitive constitution presenting several

This formula, being only a summary of experience, should be justified
and explained by the latter. For this purpose we can borrow facts from
two distinct sources: (a) individual development, which is the safest,
clearest, and easiest to observe; (b) the development of the species, or
historical development, according to the accepted principle that
phylogenesis and ontogenesis follow the same general line.


_First Period._ We are already acquainted with it: it is the imaginative
age. In normal man, it begins at about the age of three, and embraces
infancy, adolescence, youth: sometimes a longer, sometimes a shorter
period. Play, romantic invention, mythic and fantastic conceptions of
the world sum it up first; after that, in most, imagination is dependent
on the influence of the passions, and especially sexual love. For a long
time it remains without any rational element.

Nevertheless, little by little, the latter wins a place.
Reflection--including under the term the working of the
intelligence--begins very late, grows slowly, and the proportion as it
asserts itself, gains an influence over the imaginative activity and
tends to reduce it. This growing antagonism is represented in the
following figure.

The curve IM is that of the imagination during this first period. It
rises at first very slowly, then attains a rapid ascent and keeps at a
height that marks its greatest attainment in this earliest form. The
dotted line RX represents the rational development that begins later,
advances much more slowly, but progressively, and reaches at X the level
of the imaginative curve. The two intellectual forms are present like
two rivals. The position MX on the ordinate marks the beginning of the
second period.


_Second Period._ This is a critical period of indeterminate length, in
any case, always much briefer than the other two. This critical moment
can be characterized only by its causes and results. Its causes are, in
the physiological sphere, the formation of an organism and a fully
developed brain; in the psychologic order, the antagonism between the
pure subjectivity of the imagination and the objectivity of
ratiocinative processes; in other words, between mental instability and
stability. As for the results, they appear only in the third period, the
resultant of this obscure, metamorphic stage.

_Third Period._ It is definite: in some way or another and in some
degree the imagination has become rationalized, but this change is not
reducible to a single formula.

(1) The creative imagination falls, as is indicated in the figure, where
the imagination curve MN´ descends rapidly toward the line of abcissas
without ever reaching it. This is the most general case; only truly
imaginative minds are exceptions. One falls little by little into the
prose of practical life--such is the downfall of love which is treated
as a phantom, the burial of the dreams of youth, etc. This is a
regression, not an end; for the creative imagination disappears
completely in no man; it only becomes accessory.

(2) It keeps up but becomes transformed; it adapts itself to the
conditions of rational thought; it is no longer pure imagination, but
becomes a mixed form--the fact is indicated in the diagram by the union
of the two lines, MN, the imagination, and XO, the rational. This is the
case with truly imaginative beings, in whom inventive power long remains
young and fresh.

This period of preservation, of definitive constitution with rational
transformation, presents several varieties. First, and simplest,
_transformation into logical form_. The creative power manifested in the
first stage remains true to itself, and always follows the same trend.
Such are the precocious inventors, those whose vocation appeared early
and never changed direction. Invention loses its childish or juvenile
character in becoming virile; there are no other changes. Compare
Schiller's _Robbers_, written in his teens, with his _Wallenstein_,
dating from his fortieth year; or the vague sketches of the adolescent
James Watt with his inventions as a man.

Another case is the _metamorphosis_ or _deviation_ of creative power. We
know what numbers of men who have left a great name in science,
politics, mechanical or industrial invention started out with mediocre
efforts in music, painting, and especially poetry, the drama, and
fiction. The imaginative impulse did not discover its true direction at
the outset; it imitated while trying to invent. What has been said above
concerning the chronological development of the imagination would be
tiresome repetition. The need of creating followed from the first the
line of least resistance, where it found certain materials ready to
hand. But in order to arrive to full consciousness of itself it needed
more time, more knowledge, more accumulated experience.

We might here ask whether the contrary case is also met with; i.e.,
where the imagination, in this third period, would return to the
inclinations of the first period. This regressive metamorphosis--for I
cannot style it otherwise--is rare but not without examples. Ordinarily
the creative imagination, when it has passed its adult stage, becomes
attenuated by slow atrophy without undergoing serious change of form.
Nevertheless, I am able to cite the case of a well-known scholar who
began with a taste for art, especially plastic art, went over rapidly
to literature, devoted his life to biologic studies, in which he gained
a very deserved reputation; then, in turn, became totally disgusted with
scientific research, came back to literature and finally to the arts,
which have entirely monopolized him.

Finally--for there are very many forms--in some the imagination, though
strong, scarcely passes beyond the first stage, always retains its
youthful, almost childish form, hardly modified by a minimum of
rationality. Let us note that it is not a question here of the
characteristic ingenuousness of some inventors, which has caused them to
be called "grown-up children," but of the candor and inherent simplicity
of the imagination itself. This exceptional form is hardly reconcilable
except with esthetic creation. Let us add the mystic imagination. It
could furnish examples, less in its religious conceptions, which are
without control, than in its reveries of a scientific turn. Contemporary
mystics have invented adaptations of the world that take us back to the
mythology of early times. This prolonged childhood of the imagination,
which is, in a word, an anomaly, produces curiosities rather than
lasting works.

At this third period in the development of the imagination appears a
second, subsidiary law, that of _increasing complexity_; it follows a
progressive line from the simple to the complex. Indeed, it is not,
strictly speaking, a law of the imagination but of the rational
development exerting an influence on it by a counter-action. It is a
law of the mind that _knows_, not of one that _imagines_.

It is needless to show that theoretical and practical intelligence
develops as an increasing complex. But from the time that the mind
distinguishes clearly between the possible and the impossible, between
the fancied and the real--which is a capacity wanting in primitive
man--as soon as man has formed rational habits and has undergone
experience the impress of which is ineffaceable, the creative
imagination is subject, _nolens volens_, to new conditions; it is no
longer absolute mistress of itself, it has lost the assurance of its
infancy, and is under the rules of logical thought, which draws it along
in its train. Aside from the exceptions given above--and even they are
partial exceptions only--creative power depends on the ability to
understand, which imposes upon it its form and developmental law. In
literature and in the arts comparison between the simplicity of
primitive creations and the complexity of advanced civilizations has
become commonplace. In the practical, technical, scientific and social
worlds the higher up we go the more we have to know in order to create,
and in default of this condition we merely repeat when we think we are


Historically considered, in the species, the development of the
imagination follows the same line of progress as in the individual. We
will not repeat it; it would be mere reiteration in a vaguer form of
what we have just said. A few brief notes will suffice.

Vico--whose name deserves to be mentioned here because he was the first
to see the good that we can get from myths for the study of the
imagination--divided the course of humanity into three successive ages:
divine or theocratic, heroic or fabulous, human or historic, after which
the cycle begins over again. Although this too hypothetic conception is
now forgotten, it is sufficient for our purposes. What, indeed, are
those first two stages that have everywhere and always been the
harbingers and preparers of civilization, if not the triumphant period
of the imagination? It has produced myths, religions, legends, epics and
martial narratives, and imposing monuments erected in honor of gods and
heroes. Many nations whose evolution has been incomplete have not gone
beyond this stage.

Let us now consider this question under a more definite, more limited,
better known form--the history of intellectual development in Europe
since the fall of the Roman Empire. It shows very distinctly our three

No one will question the preponderance of the imagination during the
middle Ages: intensity of religious feeling, ceaselessly repeated
epidemics of superstition; the institution of chivalry, with all its
accessories; heroic poetry, chivalric romances; courts of love,
efflorescence of Gothic art, the beginning of modern music, etc. On the
other hand, the _quantity_ of imagination applied during this epoch to
practical, industrial, commercial invention is very small. Their
scientific culture, buried in Latin jargon, is made up partly of antique
traditions, partly of fancies; what the ten centuries added to positive
science is almost _nil_. Our figure, with its two curves, one
imaginative, the other rational, thus applies just as well to historical
development as to individual development during this first period.

No more will anyone question that the Renaissance is a critical moment,
a transition period, and a transformation analogous to that which we
have noted in the individual, when there rises, opposed to imagination,
a rival power.

Finally, it will be admitted without dissent that during the modern
period social imagination has become partly decayed, partly
rationalized, under the influence of two principal factors--one
scientific, the other economic. On the one hand the development of
science, on the other hand the great maritime discoveries, by
stimulating industrial and commercial inventions, have given the
imagination a new field of activity. There have arisen points of
attraction that have drawn it into other paths, have imposed upon it
other forms of creation that have often been neglected or misunderstood
and that we shall study in the Third Part.




After having studied the creative imagination in its constitutive
elements and in its development we purpose, in this last part,
describing its principal forms. This will be neither analytic nor
genetic but concrete. The reader need not fear wearisome repetition; our
subject is sufficiently complex to permit a third treatment without

The expression "creative imagination," like all general terms, is an
abbreviation and an abstraction. There is no "imagination in general,"
but only _men who imagine_, and who do so in different ways; the reality
is in them. The diversities in creation, however numerous, should be
reducible to types that are _varieties_ of imagination, and the
determination of these varieties is analogous to that of character as
related to will. Indeed, when we have settled upon the physiological and
psychological conditions of voluntary activity we have only done a work
in _general_ psychology. Men being variously constituted, their modes of
action bear the stamp of their individuality; in each one there is a
personal factor that, whatever its ultimate nature, puts its mark on the
will and makes it energetic or weak, rapid or slow, stable or unstable,
continuous or intermittent. The same is true of the creative
imagination. We cannot know it completely without a study of its
varieties, without a special psychology, toward which the following
chapters are an attempt.

How are we to determine these varieties? Many will be inclined to think
that the method is indicated in advance. Have not psychologists
distinguished, according as one or another of image-groups
preponderates, visual, auditory, motor and mixed types? Is not the way
clear and is it not well enough to go in this direction? However natural
this solution may appear, it is illusory and can lead to naught. It
rests on the equivocal use of the word "imagination," which at one time
means mere reproduction of images, and at another time creative
activity, and which, consequently, keeps up the erroneous notion that in
the creative imagination images, the raw materials, are the essential
part. The materials, no doubt, are not a negligible element, but by
themselves they cannot reveal to us the species and varieties that have
their origin in an anterior and superior tendency of mind. We shall see
in the sequel that the very nature of constructive imagination may
express itself indifferently in sounds, words, colors, lines, and even
numbers. The method that should allege to settle the various
orientations of creative activity according to the nature of images
would no more go to the bottom of the matter than would a classification
of architecture according to the materials employed (as rock, brick,
iron, wood, etc.) with no regard for differences of style.

This method aside, since the determination must be made according to the
individuality of the architect, what method shall we follow? The matter
is even more perplexing than the study of character. Although various
authors have treated the latter subject (we have attempted it
elsewhere), no one of the proposed classifications has been universally
accepted. Nevertheless, despite their differences, they coincide in
several points, because these have the advantage of resting on a common
basis--the large manifestations of human nature, feeling, doing,
thinking. In our subject I find nothing like this and I seek in vain for
a point of support. Classifications are made according to the essential
dominating attributes; but, as regards the varieties of the creative
imagination, what are they?

We may, indeed, as was said above, distinguish two great classes--the
intuitive and the combining. From another point of view we may
distinguish invention of free range (esthetic, religious, mystic) from
invention more or less restricted (mechanical, scientific, commercial,
military, political, social). But these two divisions are too general,
leading to nothing. A true classification should be in touch with facts,
and this one soars too high.

Leaving, then, to others, more skilled or more fortunate, the task of a
rational and systematic determination, if it be possible, we shall try
merely to distinguish and describe the principal forms, such as
experience gives them to us, emphasizing those that have been neglected
or misinterpreted. What follows is thus neither a classification nor
even a complete enumeration.

We shall study at first two general forms of the creative
imagination--the plastic and the diffluent--and later, special forms,
determined by their content and subject.

       *       *       *       *       *

Wundt, in a little-noticed passage of his _Physiological Psychology_,
has undertaken to determine the composition of the "principal forms of
talent," which he reduces to four:

The first element is imagination. It may be intuitive, "that is,
conferring on representations a clearness of sense-perception," or
combining; "then it operates on multiple combinations of images." A very
marked development in both directions at the same time is uncommon; the
author assigns reasons for this.

The second element is understanding (_Verstand_). It may be
inductive--i.e., inclining toward the collection of facts in order to
draw generalizations from them--or deductive, taking general concepts
and laws to trace their consequences.

If the intuitive imagination is joined to the inductive spirit we have
the talent for observation of the naturalist, the psychologist, the
pedagogue, the man of affairs.

If the intuitive imagination is combined with the deductive spirit we
have the analytical talent of the systematic naturalist, of the
geometrician. In Linnaeus and Cuvier the intuitive element predominates;
in Gauss, the analytical element.

The combining imagination joined to the inductive spirit constitutes
"the talent for invention strictly so-called," in industry, in the
technique of science; it gives the artist and the poet the power of
composing their works.

The combining imagination plus the deductive spirit gives the
speculative talent of the mathematician and philosopher; deduction
predominates in the former, imagination in the latter.[78]


[78] Wundt, _Physiologische Psychologie_, 4th German edition, Vol.
II, pp. 490-95.




By "plastic imagination" I understand that which has for its special
characters clearness and precision of form; more explicitly those forms
whose materials are clear images (whatever be their nature), approaching
perception, giving the impression of reality; in which, too, there
predominate _associations with objective relations_, determinable with
precision. The plastic mark, therefore, is in the images, and in the
modes of association of images. In somewhat rough terms, requiring
modifications which the reader himself can make, it is the imagination
that materializes.

Between perception--a very complex synthesis of qualities, attributes
and relations--and conception--which is only the consciousness of a
quality, quantity, or relation, often of only a single word accompanied
by vague outlines and a latent, potential knowledge; between concrete
and abstract, the image occupies an intermediate position and can run
from one pole to another, now full of reality, now almost as poor and
pale as a concept. The representation here styled plastic descends
towards its point of origin; it is an external imagination, arising from
sensation rather than from feeling and needing to become objective.

Thus its general characters are easy of determination. First and
foremost, it makes use of visual images; then of motor images; lastly,
in practical invention, of tactile images. In a word, the three groups
of images present to a great extent the character of externality and
objectivity. The clearness of form of these three groups proceeds from
their origin, because they arise from sensation well determined in
space--sight, movement, touch. Plastic imagination depends most on
spatial conditions. We shall see that its opposite, diffluent
imagination, is that which depends least upon that factor, or is most
free from it. Among these naturally objective elements the plastic
imagination chooses the most objective, which fact gives its creations
an air of reality and life.

The second characteristic is inferiority of the affective element; it
appears only intermittently and is entirely blotted out before sensory
impression. This form of the creative imagination, coming especially
from sensation, aims especially at sensation. Thus it is rather
superficial, greatly devoid of that internal mark that comes from

But if it chance that both sensory and affective elements are equal in
power; if there is at the same time intense vision adequate to reality,
and profound emotion, violent shock, then there arise extraordinary
imaginative personages, like Shakespeare, Carlyle, Michelet. It is
needless to describe this form of imagination, excellent pen-pictures of
which have been given by the critics;[79] let us merely note that its
psychology reduces itself to an alternately ascending and descending
movement between the two limiting points of perception and idea. The
ascending process assigns to inanimate objects life, desires and
feelings. Thus Michelet: "The great streams of the Netherlands, _tired_
with their very long course, _perish_ as though from _weariness_ in the
_unfeeling_ ocean."[80] Elsewhere, the great folio begets the octavo,
"which becomes the parent of the small volume, of booklets, of ephemeral
pamphlets, invisible spirits flying in the night, creating under the
very eyes of tyrants the circulation of liberty." The descending process
materializes abstractions, gives them body, makes them flesh and bone;
the Middle Ages become "a poor child, torn from the bowels of
Christianity, born amidst tears, grown up in prayer and revery, in
anguish of heart, dying without achieving anything." In this dazzle of
images there is a momentary return to primitive animism.


In order to more fully understand the plastic imagination, let us take
up its principal manifestations.

1. First, the arts dealing with form, where its necessity is evident.
The sculptor, painter, architect, must have visual and tactile-motor
images; it is the material in which their creations are wrapped up. Even
leaving out the striking acts requiring such a sure and tenacious
external vision (portraits executed from memory, exact remembrance of
faces at the end of twenty years, as in the case of Gavarni, etc.[81]),
and limiting ourselves merely to the usual, the plastic arts demand an
observant imagination. For the majority of men the concrete image of a
face, a form, a color, usually remains vague and fleeting; "red, blue,
black, white, tree, animal, head, mouth, arm, etc., are scarcely more
than words, symbols expressing a rough synthesis. For the painter, on
the other hand, images have a very high precision of details, and what
he sees beneath the words or in real objects are analyzed facts,
positive elements of perception and movement."[82]

The rôle of tactile-motor images is not insignificant. There has often
been cited the instance of sculptors who, becoming blind, have
nevertheless been able to fashion busts of close resemblance to the
original. This is memory of touch and of the muscular sense, entirely
equivalent to the visual memory of the portrait painters mentioned
above. Practical knowledge of design and modeling--i.e., of contour and
relief--though resulting from natural or acquired disposition, depends
on cerebral conditions, the development of definite sensory-motor
regions and their connections; and on psychological conditions--the
acquisition and organization of appropriate images. "We learn to paint
and carve," wrote a contemporary painter, "as we do sewing, embroidery,
sawing, filing and turning." In short, like all manual labor requiring
associated and combined acts.

2. Another form of plastic imagination uses words as means for evoking
vivid and clear impressions of sight, touch, movement; it is the poetic
or literary form. Of it we find in Victor Hugo a finished type. As all
know, we need only open his works at hazard to find a stream of
glittering images. But what is their nature? His recent biographers,
guided by contemporary psychology, have well shown that they always
paint scenes or movements. It is unnecessary to give proofs. Some facts
have a broader range and throw light upon his psychology. Thus we are
told that "he never dictates or rhymes from memory and composes only in
writing, for he believes that writing has its own features, and he
wants to _see the words_. Théophile Gautier, who knows and understands
him so well, says: 'I also believe that in the sentence we need most of
all an _ocular_ rhythm. A book is made to be read, not to be spoken
aloud.'" It is added that "Victor Hugo never spoke his verses but wrote
them out and would often illustrate them on the margin, as if he needed
to fixate the image in order to find the appropriate word."[83]

After visual representations come those of movement: the steeple
_pierces_ the horizon, the mountain _rends_ the cloud, the mountain
_raises himself_ and looks about, "the cold caverns open their mouths
_drowsily_," the wind lashes the rock into tears with the waterfall, the
thorn is an enraged plant, and so on indefinitely.

A more curious fact is the transposition of sonorous sensations or
images of sound, and like them without form or figure, into visual and
motor images: "The _ruffles_ of sound that the fifer cuts out; the flute
_goes up_ to alto like a frail capital on a column." This thoroughly
plastic imagination remains identical with itself while reducing
everything spontaneously, unconsciously, to spatial terms.

In literature this altogether foreign mode of creative activity has
found its most complete expression among the _Parnassiens_ and their
congeners, whose creed is summed up in the formula, faultless form and
impassiveness. Théophile Gautier claims that "a poet, no matter what may
be said of him, is a _workman_; it is not necessary that he have more
intelligence than a laborer and have knowledge of a state other than his
own, without which he does badly. I regard as perfectly absurd the mania
that people have of hoisting them (the poets) up onto an ideal pedestal;
_nothing is less ideal than a poet_. For him words have in themselves
and outside the meaning they express, their own beauty and value, just
like precious stones not yet cut and mounted in bracelets, necklaces and
rings; they charm the understanding that looks at them and takes them
from the finger to the little pile where they are put aside for future
use." If this statement, whether sincere or not, is taken literally, I
see no longer any difference, save as regards the materials employed,
between the imagination of poets and the imagination active in the
mechanical arts. For the usefulness of the one and the "uselessness" of
the other is a characteristic foreign to invention itself.

3. In the teeming mass of myths and religious conceptions that the
nineteenth century has gathered with so much care we could establish
various classifications--according to race, content, intellectual level;
and, in a more artificial manner but one suitable for our subject,
according to the degree of precision or fluidity.

Neglecting intermediate forms, we may, indeed, divide them into two
groups; some are clear in outline, are consistent, relatively logical,
resembling a definite historical relation; others are vague, multiform,
incoherent, contradictory; their characters change into one another, the
tales are mixed and are imperceptible in the whole.

The former types are the work of the plastic imagination. Such are, if
we eliminate oriental influences, most of the myths belonging to Greece
when, on emerging from the earliest period, they attained their definite
constitution. It has been held that the plastic character of these
religious conceptions is an effect of esthetic development: statues,
bas-reliefs, poetry, and even painting, have made definite the
attributes of the gods and their history. Without denying this influence
we must nevertheless understand that it is only auxiliary. To those who
would challenge this opinion let us recall that the Hindoos have had
gigantic poems, have covered their temples with numberless sculptures,
and yet their fluid mythology is the opposite of the Greek. Among the
peoples who have incarnated their divinities in no statue, in no human
or animal form, we find the Germans and the Celts. But the mythology of
the former is clear, well kept within large lines; that of the latter is
fleeting and inconsistent--the despair of scholars.[84]

It is, then, certain that myths of the plastic kind are the fruits of an
innate quality of mind, of a mode of feeling and of translating, at a
given moment in its history, the preponderating characters of a race; in
short, of a form of imagination and ultimately of a special cerebral

4. The most complete manifestation of the plastic imagination is met
with in mechanical invention and what is allied thereto, in consequence
of the need of very exact representations of qualities and relations.
But this is a specialized form, and, as its importance has been too
often misunderstood, it deserves a separate study. (See Chapter V,


Such are the principal traits of this type of imagination: clearness of
outline, both of the whole and of the details. It is not identical with
the form called realistic--it is more comprehensive; it is a genus of
which "realism" is a species. Moreover, the latter expression being
reserved by custom for esthetic creation, I purposely digress in order
to dwell on this point: that the esthetic imagination has no essential
character belonging exclusively to it, and that it differs from other
forms (scientific, mechanical, etc.) only in its materials and in its
end, not in its primary nature.

On the whole, the plastic imagination could be summed up in the
expression, _clearness in complexity_. It always preserves the mark of
its original source--i.e., in the creator and those disposed to enjoy
and understand him it tends to approach the clearness of perception.

Would it be improper to consider as a variety of the genus a mode of
representation that could be expressed as _clearness in simplicity_? It
is the dry and rational imagination. Without depreciating it we may say
that it is rather a condition of imaginative poverty. We hold with
Fouillée that the average Frenchman furnishes a good example of it. "The
Frenchman," says he, "does not usually have a very strong imagination.
His internal vision has neither the hallucinative intensity nor the
exuberant fancy of the German and Anglo-Saxon mind; it is an
intellectual and distant view rather than a sensitive resurrection or an
immediate contact with, and possession of, the things themselves.
Inclined to deduce and construct, our intellect excels less in
representing to itself real things than in discovering relations between
possible or necessary things. In other words, it is a logical and
combining imagination that takes pleasure in what has been termed the
abstract view of life. The Chateaubriands, Hugos, Flauberts, Zolas, are
exceptional with us. We reason more than we imagine."[85]

Its psychological constitution is reducible to two elements: slightly
concrete images, _schemas_ approaching general ideas; for their
association, relations predominantly rational, more the products of the
logic of the intellect than of the logic of the feelings. It lacks the
sudden, violent shock of emotion that gives brilliancy to images, making
them arise and grouping them in unforeseen combinations. It is a form of
invention and construction that is more the work of reason than of
imagination proper.

Consequently, is it not paradoxical to relate it to plastic imagination,
as species to genus? It would be idle to enter upon a discussion of the
subject here without attempting a classification; let us merely note the
likenesses and differences. Both are above all objective--the first,
because it is sensory; the other, because it is rational. Both make use
of analogous modes of association, dependent more on the nature of
things than on the personal impression of the subject. Opposition exists
only on one point: the former is made up of vivid images that approach
perception; the latter is made up of internal images bordering upon
concepts. Rational imagination is plastic imagination desiccated and


[79] Thus Taine says of Carlyle: "He cannot stick to simple
expression; at every step he drops into figures, gives body to every
idea, must touch forms. We see that he is possessed and haunted by
glittering or saddening visions; in him every thought is an
explosion; a flood of seething passion reaches the boiling-point in
his brain, which overflows, and the torrent of images runs over the
banks and rushes with all its mud and all its splendor. He cannot
reason, he must paint." Despite the vigor of this sketch, the
perusal of ten pages of _Sartor Resartus_ or of the _French
Revolution_ teaches more in regard to the nature of this imagination
than all the commentaries.

[80] For a point of view in criticism that has seemed correct to
many on this matter, compare the well-known chapter on the "Pathetic
Fallacy" by Ruskin, in his _Modern Painters_. (Tr.)

[81] Arréat (_Psychologie du peintre_, pp. 62 ff.) gives a large
number of examples of this.

[82] _Ibid._, p. 115.

[83] For further details on this point, consult Mabilleau, _Victor
Hugo_, 2nd part, chaps. II, III, IV.--Renouvier, in the book devoted
to the poet, asserts that "on account of his aptitude for
representing to himself the details of a figure, order and position
in space, beyond any present sensation," Victor Hugo could have
become a mathematician of the highest order.

[84] As bearing out the position of the author, we may also call
attention to the fact that while the Hebrew race has had very slight
development in the plastic arts, yet its mythology has always taken
a very definite form, even when dealing with the vaguest and most
abstract subjects. (Tr.)

[85] Fouillée, _Psychologie du peuple français_, p. 185.




The diffluent imagination is another general form, but one that is
completely opposed to the foregoing. It consists of vaguely-outlined,
indistinct images that are evoked and joined according to the least
rigorous modes of association. It presents, then, two things for our
consideration--the nature of the images and of their associations.

(1) It employs neither the clear-cut, concrete, reality-penetrated
images of the plastic imagination, nor the semi-schematic
representations of the rational imagination, but those midway in that
ascending and descending scale extending from perception to conception.
This determination, however, is insufficient, and we can make it more
precise. Analysis, indeed, discovers a certain class of ill-understood
images, which I call emotional abstractions, and which are the proper
material for the diffluent imagination. These images are reduced to
certain qualities or attributes of things, taking the place of the
whole, and chosen from among the others for various reasons, the origin
of which is affective. We shall comprehend their nature better through
the following comparison:

Intellectual or rational abstraction results from the choice of a
fundamental, or at least principal, character, which becomes the
substitute for all the rest that is omitted. Thus, extension,
resistance, or impenetrability, come to represent, through
simplification and abbreviation, what we call "matter."

Emotional abstraction, on the other hand, results from the permanent or
temporary predominance of an emotional state. Some aspect of a thing,
essential or not, comes into relief, solely because it is in direct
relation to the disposition of our sensibility, with no other
preoccupation; a quality, an attribute is spontaneously, arbitrarily
selected because it impresses us at the given instant--in the final
analysis, because it somehow pleases or displeases us. The images of
this class have an "impressionist" mark. They are abstractions in the
strict sense--i.e., extracts from and simplifications of the sensory
data. They act less through a direct influence than by evoking,
suggesting, whispering; they permit a glance, a passing glimpse: we may
justly call them crepuscular or twilight ideas.

(2) As for the forms of association, the relations linking these images,
they do not depend so much on the order and connections of things as on
the changing dispositions of the mind. They have a very marked subjective
character. Some depend on the intellectual factor; the most usual are
based on chance, on distant and vacillating analogies--further down, even
on assonance and alliteration. Others depend on the affective factor and
are ruled by the disposition of the moment: association by contrast,
especially those alike in emotional basis, which have been previously
studied. (First Part, Chapter II.)

Thus the diffluent imagination is, trait for trait, the opposite of the
plastic imagination. It has a general character of inwardness because it
arises less from sensation than from feeling, often from a simple and
fugitive impression. Its creations have not the organic character of the
other, lacking a stable center of attraction; but they act by diffusion
and inclusion.


By its very nature it is _de jure_, if not _de facto_, excluded from
certain territories--if it ventures therein it produces only abortions.
This is true of the practical sphere, which permits neither vague images
nor approximate constructions; and of the scientific world, where the
imagination may be used only to create a theory or invent processes of
discovery (experiments, schemes of reasoning). Even with these
exceptions there is still left for it a very wide range.

Let us rapidly pass over some very frequent, very well-known
manifestations of the diffluent imagination--those obliterated forms in
which it does not reach complete development and cannot give the full
measure of its power.

(1) Revery and related states. This is perhaps the purest specimen of
the kind, but it remains embryonic.

(2) The romantic turn of mind. This is seen in those who, confronted by
any event whatever or an unknown person, make up, spontaneously,
involuntarily, in spite of themselves, a story out of whole cloth. I
shall later give examples of it according to the written testimony of
several people.[86] In whatever concerns themselves or others they
create an imagined world, which they substitute for the real.

(3) The fantastic mind. Here we come away from the vague forms; the
diffluent imagination becomes substantial and asserts itself through its
permanence. At bottom this fantastic form is the romantic spirit tending
toward objectification. The invention, which was at first only a
thoroughly internal construction and recognized as such, aspires to
become external, to become realized, and when it ventures into a world
other than its own, one requiring the rigorous conditions of the
practical imagination, it is wrecked, or succeeds only through chance,
and that very rarely. To this class belong those inventors, known to
everyone, who are fertile in methods of enriching themselves or their
country by means of agricultural, mining, industrial or commercial
enterprises; the makers of the utopias of finance, politics, society,
etc. It is a form of imagination unnaturally oriented toward the

(4) The list increases with myths and religious conceptions; the
imagination in its diffuse form here finds itself on its own ground.

Depending on linguistics, it has recently been maintained that, among
the Aryans at least, the imagination created at first only momentary
gods (_Augenblicksgötter_).[88] Every time that primitive man, in the
presence of a phenomenon, experienced a perceptible emotion, he
translated it by a name, the manifestation of what was imagined the
divine part in the emotion felt. "Every religious emotion gives rise to
a new name--i.e., a new divinity. But the religious imagination is
never identical with itself; though produced by the same phenomenon, it
translates itself, at two different moments, by two different words." As
a consequence, "during the early periods of the human race, religious
names must have been applied not to _classes_ of beings or events but to
_individual_ beings or events. Before worshipping the comet or the
fig-tree, men must have worshiped each one of the comets they beheld
crossing the sky, every one of the fig-trees that their eyes saw."
Later, with advancing capacity for generalization, these "instantaneous"
divinities would be condensed into more consistent gods. If this
hypothesis, which has aroused many criticisms, be sound--if this state
were met with--it would be the ideal type of imaginative instability in
the religious order.

Nearer to us, authentic evidence shows that certain peoples, at given
stages of their history, have created such vague, fluid myths, that we
cannot succeed in delimiting them. Every god can change himself into
another, different, or even opposite, one. The Semitic religions might
furnish examples of this. There has been established the identity of
Istar, Astarte, Tanit, Baalath, Derketo, Mylitta, Aschera, and still
others. But it is in the early religion of the Hindoos that we perceive
best this kaleidoscopic process applied to divine beings. In the vedic
hymns not only are the clouds now serpents, now cows and later
fortresses (the retreats of dark Asuras), but we see Agni (fire)
becoming Kama (desire or love), and Indra becoming Varuna, and so on.
"We cannot imagine," says Taine, "such a great clearness. The myth here
is not a disguise, but an expression; no language is more true and more
supple. It permits a glimpse of, or rather, it causes us to discern the
forms of clouds, movements of the air, changes of seasons, all the
happenings of sky, fire, storm: external nature has never met a mind so
impressionable and pliant in which to mirror itself in all the
inexhaustible variety of its appearances. However changeable nature may
be, this imagination corresponds to it. It has no fixed gods; they are
changeable like the things themselves; they blend one into another.
Everyone of them is in turn the supreme deity; no one of them is a
distinct personality; everyone is only a moment of nature, able,
according to the apperception of the moment, to include its neighbor or
be included by it. In this fashion they swarm and teem. Every moment of
nature and every apperceptive moment may furnish one of them."[89] Let
us, indeed, note that, for the worshiper, the god to whom he addresses
himself and while he is praying, is always the greatest and most
powerful. The assignment of attributes passes suddenly from one to the
other, regardless of contradiction. In this versatility some writers
believe they have discovered a vague pantheistic conception. Nothing is
more questionable, fundamentally, than this interpretation. It is more
in harmony with the psychology of these naïve minds to assume simply an
extreme state of "impressionism," explicable by the logic of feeling.

Thus, there is a complete antithesis between the imagination that has
created the clear-cut and definite polytheism of the Greeks and that
whence have issued those fluctuating divinities that allow the
presentation of the future doctrine of _Mâya_, of universal
illusion--another more refined form of the diffluent imagination.
Finally, let us note that the Hellenic imagination realized its gods
through anthropomorphism--they are the ideal forms of human
attributes[90]--majesty, beauty, power, wisdom, etc. The Hindoo
imagination proceeds through symbolism: its divinities have several
heads, several arms, several legs, to symbolize limitless intelligence,
power, etc.; or better still, animal forms, as e.g., Ganesa, the god of
wisdom, with the head of the elephant, reputed the wisest of animals.

(5) It would be easy to show by the history of literature and the fine
arts that the vague forms have been preferred according to peoples,
times, and places. Let us limit ourselves to a single contemporary
example that is complete and systematically created--the art of the
"symbolists." It is not here a question of criticism, of praise, or even
of appreciation, but merely of a consideration of it as a psychological
fact likely to instruct us in regard to the nature of the diffluent

This form of art despises the clear and exact representation of the
outer world: it replaces it by a sort of music that aspires to express
the changing and fleeting inwardness of the human soul. It is the school
of the subject "who wants to know only mental states." To that end, it
makes use of a natural or artificial lack of precision: everything
floats in a dream, men as well as things, often without mark in time and
space. Something happens, one knows not where or when; it belongs to no
country, is of no period in time: it is _the_ forest, _the_ traveler,
_the_ city, _the_ knight, _the_ wood; less frequently, even _He_, _She_,
_It_. In short, all the vague and unstable characters of the pure,
content-less affective state. This process of "suggestion" sometimes
succeeds, sometimes fails.

The word is the sign _par excellence_. As, according to the symbolists,
it should give us emotions rather than representations, it is necessary
that it lose, partially, its intellectual function and undergo a new

A principal process consists of employing usual words and changing their
ordinary acceptation, or rather, associating them in such a way that
they lose their precise meaning, and appear vague and mysterious: these
are the words "written in the depths." The writers do not name--they
leave it for us to infer. "They banish commonplaces through lack of
precision, and leave to things only the power of moving." A rose is not
described by the particular sensations that it causes, but by the
general condition that it excites.

Another method is the employment of new words or words that have fallen
into disuse. Ordinary words retain, in spite of everything, somewhat of
their customary meaning, associations and thoughts condensed in them
through long habit; words forgotten during four or five centuries
escape this condition--they are coins without fixed value.

Lastly, a still more radical method is the attempt to give to words an
exclusively emotional valuation. Unconsciously or as the result of
reflection some symbolists have come to this extreme trial, which the
logic of events imposed upon them. Ordinarily, thought expresses itself
in words; feeling, in gestures, cries, interjections, change of tone: it
finds its complete and classic expression in music. The symbolists want
to transfer the rôle of sound to words, to make of them the instrument
for translating and suggesting emotion through sound alone: words have
to act not as signs but as sounds: they are "musical notes in the
service of an impassioned psychology."

All this, indeed, concerns only imagination expressing itself in words;
but we know that the symbolic school has applied itself to the plastic
arts, to treat them in its own way. The difference, however, is in the
vesture that the esthetic ideal assumes. The pre-Raphaelites have
attempted, by effacing forms, outlines, semblances, colors, "to cause
things to appear as mere sources of emotion," in a word, to _paint_

To sum up--In this form of the diffluent imagination the emotional
factor exercises supreme authority.

May the type of imagination, the chief manifestations of which we have
just enumerated, be considered as identical with the idealistic
imagination? This question is similar to that asked in the preceding
chapter, and permits the same answer. In idealistic art, doubtless, the
material element furnished in perception (form, color, touch, effort) is
minimized, subtilized, sublimated, refined, so as to approach as nearly
as possible to a purely internal state. By the nature of its favorite
images, by its preference for vague associations and uncertain
relations, it presents all the characteristics of diffluent imagination;
but the latter covers a much broader field: it is the genus of which the
other is a species. Thus, it would be erroneous to regard the fantastic
imagination as idealistic; it has no claim to the term: on the contrary,
it believes itself adapted for practical work and acts in that

In addition, it must be recognized that were we to make a complete
review of all the forms of esthetic creation, we should frequently be
embarrassed to classify them, because there are among them, as in the
case of characters, mixed or composite forms. Here, for example, are two
kinds seemingly belonging to the diffluent imagination which, however,
do not permit it to completely include them.

(a) The "wonder" class (fairy-tales, the Thousand and One Nights,
romances of chivalry, Ariosto's poem, etc.) is a survival of the mythic
epoch, when the imagination is given free play without control or check;
whereas, in the course of centuries, art--and especially literary
creation--becomes, as we have already said, a decadent and rationalized
mythology. This form of invention consists neither of idealizing the
external world, nor reproducing it with the minuteness of realism, but
_remaking_ the universe to suit oneself, without taking into account
natural laws, and despising the impossible: it is a liberated realism.
Often, in an environment of pure fancy, where only caprice reigns, the
characters appear clear, well-fashioned, living. The "wonder" class
belongs, then, to the vague as well as to the plastic imagination; more
or less to one or to the other, according to the temperament of the

(b) The fantastic class develops under the same conditions. Its chiefs
(Hoffmann, Poe, _et al._) are classed by critics as realists. They are
such by virtue of their vision, intensified to hallucination, the
precision in details, the rigorous logic of characters and events: they
rationalize the improbable.[91] On the other hand, the environment is
strange, shrouded in mystery: men and things move in an unreal
atmosphere, where one feels rather than perceives. It is thus proper to
remark that this class easily glides into the deeply sad, the horrible,
terrifying, nightmare-producing, "satanic literature;" Goya's paintings
of robbers and thieves being garroted; Wiertz, a genius bizarre to the
point of extravagance, who paints only suicides or the heads of
guillotined criminals.

Religious conceptions could also furnish a fine lot of examples: Dante's
_Inferno_, the twenty-eight hells of Buddhism, which are perhaps the
masterpieces of this class, etc. But all this belongs to another
division of our subject, one that I have expressly eliminated from this
essay--the pathology of the creative imagination.


There yet remains for us to study two important varieties that I connect
with the diffluent imagination.


Under this head I designate the imagination that takes pleasure in the
unlimited--in infinity of time and space--under the form of number. It
seems at first that these two terms--imagination and number--must be
mutually exclusive. Every number is precise, rigorously determined,
since we can always reduce it to a relation with unity; it owes nothing
to fancy. But the _series_ of numbers is unlimited in two directions:
starting from any term in the series, we may go on ever increasingly or
ever decreasingly. The working of the mind gives rise to a possible
infinity that is limitless: it thus traces a route for the movement of
the imagination. The number, or rather the series of numbers, is less an
object than a vehicle.

This form of imagination is produced in two principal ways--in religious
conceptions and cosmogonies, and in science.

(1) Numerical imagination has nowhere been more exuberant than among the
peoples of the Orient. They have played with number with magnificent
audacity and prodigality. Chaldean cosmogony relates that _Oannes_, the
Fish-god, devoted 259,200 years to the education of mankind, then came a
period of 432,000 years taken up with the reigns of mythical personages,
and at the end of these 691,000 years, the deluge renewed the face of the
earth. The Egyptians, also, were liberal with millions of years, and in
the face of the brief and limited chronology of the Greeks (another kind
of imagination) were wont to exclaim, "You, O Greeks, you are only
children!" But the Hindoos have done better than all that. They have
invented enormous units to serve as basis and content for their numerical
fancies: the _Koti_, equivalent to ten millions; the _Kalpa_ (or the age
of the world between two destructions), 4,328,000,000 years. Each _Kalpa_
is merely one of 365 days of divine life: I leave to the reader, if he is
so inclined, the work of calculating this appalling number. The Djanas
divide time into two periods, one ascending, the other descending: each is
of fabulous duration, 2,000,000,000,000,000 oceans of years; each ocean
being itself equivalent to 1,000,000,000,000,000 years. "If there were a
lofty rock, sixteen miles in each dimension, and one touched it once in a
hundred years with a bit of the finest Benares linen, it would be reduced
to the size of a wango-stone before a fourth of one of these _Kalpas_ had
rolled by." In the sacred books of Buddhism, poor, dry, colorless, as they
ordinarily are, imagination in its numerical forms is triumphant. The
_Lalitavistara_ is full of nomenclatures and enumerations of fatiguing
monotony: Buddha is seated on a rock shaded by 100,000 parasols,
surrounded by minor gods forming an assemblage of 68,000 _Kotis_ (i.e.,
680,000,000 persons), and--this surpasses all the rest--"he had
experienced many vicissitudes during 10,100,000,000 _Kalpas_." This makes
one dizzy.

(2) Numerical imagination in the sciences does not take on these
delirious forms; it has the advantage of resting on an objective basis:
it is the substitute of an unrepresentable reality. Scientific culture,
which people often accuse of stifling imagination, on the contrary opens
to it a field much vaster than esthetics. Astronomy delights in
infinitudes of time and space: it sees worlds arise, burn at first with
the feeble light of a nebular mass, glow like suns, become chilled,
covered with spots, and then become condensed. Geology follows the
development of our earth through upheavals and cataclysms: it foresees a
distant future when our globe, deprived of the atmospheric vapors that
protect it, will perish of cold. The hypotheses of physics and chemistry
in regard to atoms and molecules are not less reckless than the
speculations of the Hindoo imagination. "Physicists have determined the
volume of a molecule, and referring to the numbers that they give, we
find that a cube, a millimeter each way (scarcely the volume of a
silkworm's egg), would contain a number of molecules at least equal to
the cube of 10,000,000--i.e., unity followed by twenty-one zeros. One
scientist has calculated that if one had to count them and could
separate in thought a million per second, it would take more than
250,000,000 years: the being who commenced the task at the time that our
solar system could have been no more than a formless nebula, would not
yet have reached the end."[92] Biology, with its protoplasmic elements,
its plastids, gemmules, hypotheses on hereditary transmission by means
of infinitesimal subdivisions; the theory of evolution, which speaks
off-hand of periods of a hundred thousand years; and many other
scientific theses that I omit, offer fine material for the numerical

More than one scientist has even made use of this form of imagination
for the pleasure of developing a purely fanciful notion. Thus Von Baer,
supposing that we might perceive the portions of duration in another
way, imagines the changes that would result therefrom in our outlook on
nature: "Suppose we were able, within the length of a second, to note
10,000 events distinctly, instead of barely 10, as now; if our life were
then destined to hold the same number of impressions, it might be 1,000
times as short. We should live less than a month, and personally know
nothing of the change of seasons. If born in winter, we should believe
in summer as we now believe in the heats of the Carboniferous era. The
motions of organic beings would be so slow to our senses as to be
inferred, not seen. The sun would stand still in the sky, the moon be
almost free from change, and so on. But now reverse the hypothesis and
suppose a being to get only one 1,000th part of the sensations that we
get in a given time, and consequently to live 1,000 times as long.
Winters and summers will be to him like quarters of an hour. Mushrooms
and the swifter-growing plants will shoot into being so rapidly as to
appear instantaneous creations; annual shrubs will rise and fall from
the earth like restlessly boiling water springs; the motions of animals
will be as invisible as are to us the movements of bullets and
cannonballs; the sun will scour through the sky like a meteor, leaving a
fiery trail behind him, etc."[93]

The psychologic conditions of this variety of the creative imagination
are, then, these: Absence of limitation in time and space, whence the
possibility of an endless movement in all directions, and the
possibility of filling either with a myriad of dimly-perceived events.
These events not being susceptible of clear representation as to their
nature and quantity, escaping even a schematic representation, the
imagination makes its constructions with substitutes that are, in this
case, numbers.



Musical imagination deserves a separate monograph. As the task requires,
in addition to psychological capacity, a profound knowledge of musical
history and technique, it cannot be undertaken here. I purpose only one
thing, namely, to show that it has its own individual mark--that it is
the type of affective imagination.

I have elsewhere[94] attempted to prove that, contrary to the general
opinion of psychologists, there exists, in many men at least, an
affective memory; that is, a memory of emotions strictly so called, and
not merely of the intellectual conditions that caused and accompanied
them. I hold that there exists also a form of the creative imagination
that is purely emotional--the contents of which are wholly made up of
states of mind, dispositions, wants, aspirations, feelings, and emotions
of all kinds, and that it is the characteristic of the composer of
genius, of the born musician.

The musician sees in the world what concerns him. "He carries in his
head a coherent system of tone-images, in which every element has its
place and value; he perceives delicate differences of sound, of
_timbre_; he succeeds, through exercise, in penetrating into their most
varied combinations, and the knowledge of harmonious relations is for
him what design and the knowledge of color are for the painter:
intervals and harmony, rhythm and tone-qualities are, as it were,
standards to which he relates his present perceptions and which he
causes to enter into the marvelous constructions of his fancy."[95]

These sound-elements and their combinations are the words of a special
language that is very clear for some, impenetrable for others. People
have spoken to a tiresome extent of the vagueness of musical expression;
some have been pleased to hold that every one may interpret it in his
own way. We must surely recognize that emotional language does not
possess the precision of intellectual language; but in music it is the
same as in any other idiom: there are those who do not understand at
all; those who half understand and consequently always give wrong
renderings; and those who understand well--and in this last category
there are grades as varying as the aptitude for perceiving the delicate
and subtle shades of speech.[96]

The materials necessary for this form of imaginative construction are
gathered slowly. Many centuries passed between the early ages when man's
voice and the simple instruments imitating it translated simple
emotions, to the period when the efforts of antiquity and of the middle
ages finally furnished the musical imagination with the means of
expressing itself completely, and allowed complex and difficult
constructions in sound. The development of music--slow and belated as
compared to the other arts--has perhaps been due, in part at least, to
the fact that the affective imagination, its chief province (imitative,
descriptive, picturesque music being only an episode and accessory),
being made up, contrary to sensorial imagination, of tenuous, subtle,
fugitive states, has been long in seeking its methods of analysis and of
expression. However it be, Bach and the contrapuntists, by their
treatment in an independent manner of the different voices constituting
harmony, have opened a new path. Henceforth melody will be able to
develop and give rise to the richest combinations. We shall be able to
associate various melodies, sing them at the same time, or in
alternation, assign them to various instruments, vary indefinitely the
pitch of singing and concerted voices. The boundless realm of musical
combinations is open; it has been worth while to take the trouble to
invent. Modern polyphony with its power of expressing at the same time
different, even opposing, feelings is a marvelous instrument for a form
of imagination which, alien to the forms clear-cut in space, moves only
in time.

What furnishes us the best entrance into the psychology of this form of
imagination is the natural transposition operative in musicians. It
consists in this: An external or internal impression, any occurrence
whatever, even a metaphysical idea, undergoes change of a certain kind,
which the following examples will make better understood than any amount
of commentary.

Beethoven said of Klopstock's _Messiah_, "always _maestoso_, written in
_D flat major_." In his fourth symphony he expressed musically the
destiny of Napoleon; in the ninth symphony he tries to give a proof of
the existence of God. By the side of a dead friend, in a room draped in
black, he improvises the _adagio_ of the sonata in _C sharp minor_. The
biographers of Mendelssohn relate analogous instances of transposition
under musical form. During a storm that almost engulfed George Sand,
Chopin, alone in the house, under the influence of his agony, and half
unconsciously, composed one of his _Préludes_. The case of Schumann is
perhaps the most curious of all: "From the age of eight, he would amuse
himself with sketching what might be called musical portraits, drawing
by means of various turns of song and varied rhythms the shades of
character, and even the physical peculiarities, of his young comrades.
He sometimes succeeded in making such striking resemblances that all
would recognize, with no further designation, the figure indicated by
the skillful fingers that genius was already guiding." He said later: "I
feel myself affected by all that goes on in the world--men, politics,
literature; I reflect on all that in my own way and it issues outwards
in the form of music. That is why many of my compositions are so hard to
understand: they relate to events of distant interest, though important;
but everything remarkable that is furnished me by the period I must
express musically." Let us recall again that Weber interpreted in one of
the finest scenes of his _Freyschütz_ (the bullet-casting scene) "a
landscape that he had seen near the falls of Geroldsau, at the hour when
the moon's rays cause the basin in which the water rushes and boils to
glisten like silver."[97] In short, the events go into the composer's
brain, mix there, and come out changed into a musical structure.

The plastic imagination furnishes us a counter-proof: it transposes
inversely. The musical impression traverses the brain, sets it in
turmoil, but comes out transformed into visual images. We have already
cited examples from Victor Hugo (ch. I); Goethe, we know, had poor
musical gifts. After having the young Mendelssohn render an overture
from Bach, he exclaimed, "How pompous and grand that is! It seems to me
like a procession of grand personages, in gala attire, descending the
steps of a gigantic staircase."

We might generalize the question and ask whether or no there exists a
natural antagonism between true musical imagination and plastic
imagination. An answer in the affirmative seems scarcely liable to be
challenged. I had undertaken an investigation which, at the outset, made
for a different goal. It happens that it answered clearly enough the
question propounded above: the conclusion has arisen of itself,
unsought; which fact saves me from any charge of a preconceived opinion.

The question asked orally of a large number of people was this: "Does
hearing or even remembering a bit of _symphonic_ music excite visual
images in you and of what kind are they?" For self evident reasons
dramatic music was expressly excluded: the appearance of the theater,
stage, and scenery impose on the observer visual perceptions that have a
tendency to be repeated later in the form of memories.

The result of observation and of the collected answers are summed up as

Those who possess great musical culture and--this is by far more
important--taste or passion for music, generally have no visual images.
If these arise, it is only momentarily, and by chance. I give a few of
the answers: "I see absolutely nothing; I am occupied altogether with
the pleasure of the music: I live entirely in a world of sound. In
accordance with my knowledge of harmony, I analyze the harmonies but
not for long. I follow the development of the phrasing." "I see nothing:
I am given up wholly to my impressions. I believe that the chief effect
of music is to heighten in everyone the predominating feelings."

Those who possess little musical culture, and especially those having
little taste for music, have very clear visual representations. It must
nevertheless be admitted that it is very hard to investigate these
people. Because of their anti-musical natures, they avoid concerts, or
at the most, resign themselves to sit through an opera. However, since
the nature and quality of the music does not matter here, we may quote:
"Hearing a Barbary organ in the street, I picture the instrument to
myself. I see the man turning the crank. If military music sounds from
afar, I _see_ a regiment marching." An excellent pianist plays for a
friend Beethoven's sonata in C sharp minor, putting into its execution
all the pathos of which he is capable. The other sees in it "the tumult
and excitement of a fair." Here the musical rendering is misinterpreted
through misapprehension. I have several times noted this--in people
familiar with design or painting, music calls up pictures and various
scenes; one of these persons says that he is "besieged by visual
images." Here the hearing of music evidently acts as excitant.[98]

In a word, insofar as it is permissible in psychology to make use of
general formulas--and with the proviso that they apply to most, not to
all cases--we may say that during the working of the musical imagination
the appearance of visual images is the exception; that when this form of
imagination is weak, the appearance of images is the rule.

Furthermore, this result of observation is altogether in accord with
logic. There is an irreducible antithesis between affective imagination,
the characteristic of which is interiority, and visual imagination,
basically objective. Intellectual language--speech--is an arrangement
of words that stand for objects, qualities, relations, extracts of
things: in order to be understood they must call up in consciousness the
corresponding images. Emotional language--music--is an appropriate
ordering of successive or simultaneous sounds, of melodies and harmonies
that are signs of affective states: in order to be understood, they must
call up in consciousness the corresponding affective modifications. But,
in the non-musically inclined, the evocative power is small--sonorous
combinations excite only superficial and unstable internal states. The
exterior excitation, that of the sounds, follows the line of least
resistance, and acting according to the psychic nature of the
individual, tends to arouse objective images, pictures, visual
representations, well or ill adapted.

To sum up: In contrast to sensorial imagination, which has its origin
without, affective imagination begins within. The _stuff_ of its
creation is found in the mental states enumerated above, and in their
innumerable combinations, which it expresses and fixes in language
peculiar to itself, of which it has been able to make wonderful use.
Taking it altogether, the only great division possible between the
different types of imagination is perhaps reducible to this: To speak
more exactly, there are exterior and interior imaginations. These two
chapters have given a sketch of them. There now remains for us to study
the less general forms of the creative power.


[86] See Appendix E.

[87] Let us cite merely the case of Balzac who, says one of his
biographers, "was always odd." He buys a property, in order to start
a dairy there with "the best cows in the world," from which he
expects to receive a net income of 3,000 francs. In addition,
high-grade vegetable gardens, same income; vineyard, with Malaga
plants, which should bring about 2,000 fr. He has the commune of
Sèvres deed over to him a walnut tree, worth annually 2,000 francs
to him, because all the townspeople dump their rubbish there. And so
on, until at the end of four years he sees himself obliged to sell
his domain for 3,000 francs, after spending on it thrice that sum.

[88] Usener, _Götternamen_, 1896.

[89] _Nouveaux Essais de critique_, p. 320.

[90] Or, as it has been expressed, "human qualities raised to their
highest power." (Tr.)

[91] The same statement holds good as regards the "Temptations of
Saint Anthony" and other analogous subjects that have often
attracted painters.

[92] R. Dubois, _Leçons de physiologie générale et comparée_, p.

[93] Von Baer, in James, _Psychology_, I, 639.

[94] _Psychology of the Emotions_, Part I, Chapter IX.

[95] Arréat, _Mémoire et Imagination_, p. 118.

[96] Mendelssohn wrote to an author who composed verses for his
_Lieder_: "Music is more definite than speech, and to want to
explain it by means of words is to make the meaning obscure. I do
not think that words suffice for that end, and were I persuaded to
the contrary, I would not compose music. There are people who accuse
music of being ambiguous, who allege that words are always
understood: for me it is just the other way; words seem to me vague,
ambiguous, unintelligible, if we compare them to the true music that
fills the soul with a thousand things better than words. What the
music that I like expresses to me seems to me too _definite_, rather
than too indefinite, for anyone to be able to match words to it."

[97] Oelzelt-Newin, _op. cit._, pp. 22-23. For analogous facts from
contemporary musicians, see Paulhan, _Rev. Phil._, 1898, pp. 234-35.

[98] For the sake of brevity and clearness I do not give here the
observations and evidence. They will be found at the end of this
work, as Appendix D.

Under the title "An experimental test of musical expressiveness,"
Gilman, in _American Journal of Psychology_, vol. IV, No. 4, and vol.
V, No. 1 (1892-3), has studied from another point of view the effect
of music on various listeners. Eleven selections were given; I note
that three or four at the most excited visual images--ten (perhaps
eleven), emotional states. More recently, the _Psychological Review_
(September, 1898, pp. 463 ff.) has published a personal observation of
Macdougal in which sight-images accompany the hearing of music only
exceptionally and under special conditions. The author characterizes
himself as a "poor visualizer;" he declares that music arouses in him
only very rarely visual representations; "even then they are
fragmentary, consisting of simple forms without bond between them,
appearing on a dark background, remaining visible for a moment or two,
and soon disappearing." But, having gone to the concert fatigued and
jaded, he sees nothing during the first number: the visions begin
during the _andante_ of the second, and accompany "in profusion" the
rendering of the third. (See Appendix D.) May we not assume that the
state of fatigue, by lowering the vital tone, which is the basis of
the emotional life, likewise diminishes the tendency of affective
dispositions to arise again under the form of memory? On the other
hand, sensory images remain without opposition and come to the front;
at least, unless they are reënforced by a state of semi-morbid



Mystic imagination deserves a place of honor, as it is the most complete
and most daring of purely theoretic invention. Related to diffluent
imagination, especially in the latter's affective form, it has its own
special characters, which we shall try to separate out.

Mysticism rests essentially on two modes of mental life--feeling, which
we need not study; and imagination, which, in the present instance,
represents the intellectual factor. Whether the part of consciousness
that this state of mind requires and permits be imaginative in nature
and nothing else it is easy to find out. Indeed, the mystic considers
the data of sense as vain appearances, or at the most as signs revealing
and frequently laying bare the world of reality. He therefore finds no
solid support in perception. On the other hand, he scorns reasoned
thought, looking upon it as a cripple, halting half-way. He makes
neither deductions nor inductions, and does not draw conclusions after
the method of scientific hypotheses. The conclusion, then, is that he
imagines, i.e., that he realizes a construction in images that is for
him knowledge of the world; and he never proceeds, and does not proceed
here, save _ex analogia hominis_.


The root of the mystic imagination consists of a tendency to incarnate
the ideal in the sensible, to discover a hidden "idea" in every material
phenomenon or occurrence, to suppose in things a supranatural principle
that reveals itself to whoever may penetrate to it. Its fundamental
character, from which the others are derived, is thus a way of thinking
_symbolically_; but the algebraist also thinks by means of symbols, yet
is not on that account a mystic. The nature of this symbolism must,
then, be determined.

In doing so, let us note first of all that our images--understanding the
word "image" in its broadest sense--may be divided into two distinct

(1) _Concrete_ images, earliest to be received, being representations of
greatest power, residues of our perceptions, with which they have a
direct and immediate relation.

(2) _Symbolic_ images, or signs, of secondary acquirement, being
representations of lesser power, having only indirect and mediate
relations with things.

Let us make the differences between the two clear by a few simple

Concrete images are: In the visual sphere, the recollection of faces,
monuments, landscapes, etc.; in the auditory sphere, the remembrance of
the sounds of the sea, wind, the human voice, a melody, etc.; in the
motor sphere, the tossings one feels when resting after having been at
sea, the illusions of those who have had limbs amputated, etc.

Symbolic images are: In the visual order, written words, ideographic
signs, etc.; in the auditory order, spoken words or verbal images; in
the motor order, significant gestures, and even better, the
finger-language of deaf-mutes.

Psychologically, these two groups are not identical in nature. Concrete
images result from a persistence of perceptions and draw from the latter
all their validity; symbolic images result from a mental synthesis, from
an association of perception and image, or of image and image. If they
have not the same origin, no more do they disappear in the same way, as
is proven by very numerous examples of aphasia.

The originality of mystic imagination is found in this fact: It
transforms concrete images into symbolic images, and uses them as such.
It extends this process even to perceptions, so that all manifestations
of nature or of human art take on a value as signs or symbols. We shall
later find numerous examples of this. Its mode of expression is
necessarily synthetic. In itself, and because of the materials that it
makes use of, it differs from the affective imagination previously
described; it also differs from sensuous imagination, which makes use
of forms, movements, colors, as having a value of their own; and from
the imagination developing in the functions of words, through an
analytic process. It has thus a rather special mark.

Other characters are related to this one of symbolism, or else are
derived from it, viz.:

(1) An external character: the manner of writing and of speaking, the
mode of expression, whatever it is. "The dominant style among mystics,"
says von Hartmann, "is metaphorical in the extreme--now flat and
ordinary, more often turgid and emphatic. Excess of imagination betrays
itself there, ordinarily, in the thought and in the form in which that
is rendered.... A sign of mysticism which it has been believed may often
be taken as an essential sign, is obscurity and unintelligibility of
language. We find it in almost all those who have written."[99] We might
add that even in the plastic arts, symbolists and "_décadents_" have
attempted, as far as possible, methods that merely indicate and suggest
or hint instead of giving real, definite objects: which fact makes them
inaccessible to the greater number of people.

This characteristic of obscurity is due to two causes. First, mystical
imagination is guided by the logic of feeling, which is purely
subjective, full of leaps, jerks, and gaps. Again, it makes use of the
language of images, especially visual images--a language whose ideal is
vagueness, just as the ideal of verbal language is precision. All this
can be summed up in a phrase--the subjective character inherent in the
symbol. While seeming to speak like everyone else, the mystic uses a
personal idiom: things becoming symbols at the pleasure of his fancy, he
does not use signs that have a fixed and universally admitted value. It
is not surprising if we do not understand him.

(2) An extraordinary abuse of analogy and comparison in their various
forms (allegory, parable, etc.)--a natural consequence of a mode of
thinking that proceeds by means of symbols, not concepts. It has been
said, and rightly, that "the only force that makes the vast field of
mysticism fruitful is analogy."[100] Bossuet, a great opponent of
mystics, had already remarked: "One of the characteristics of these
authors is the pushing of allegories to the extreme limit." With warm
imagination, having at their disposal overexcited senses, they are
lavish of changes of expressions and figures, hoping thereby to explain
the world's mysteries. We know to what inventive labors the Vedas, the
Bible, the Koran, and other sacred books have given rise. The
distinction between literal and figurative sense, which is boundlessly
arbitrary, has given commentators a freedom to imagine equal to that of
the myth-creators.

All this is yet very reasonable; but the imagination left to itself
stops at no extravagance. After having strained the meaning of
expressions, the imaginative mind exercises itself on words and letters.
Thus, the cabalists would take the first or the last letters of the
words composing a verse, and would form with them a new word which was
to reveal the hidden meaning. Again, they would substitute for the
letters composing words the numbers that these letters represent in the
Hebrew numerical system and form the strangest combinations with them.
In the _Zohar_, all the letters of the alphabet come before God, each
one begging to be chosen as the creative element of the universe.

Let us also bring to mind numerical mysticism, different from numerical
imagination heretofore studied. Here, number is no longer the means that
mind employs in order to soar in time and space; it becomes a symbol and
material for fanciful construction. Hence arise those "sacred numbers"
teeming in the old oriental religions:--3, symbol of the trinity; 4,
symbol of the cosmic elements; 7, representing the moon and the planets,
etc.[101] Besides these fantastic meanings, there are more complicated
inventions--calculating, from the letters of one's name, the years of
life of a sick person, the auspices of a marriage, etc. The Pythagorean
philosophy, as Zeller has shown, is the systematic form of this
mathematical mysticism, for which numbers are not symbols of
quantitative relations, but the very essence of things.

This exaggerated symbolism, which makes the works of mystics so fragile,
and which permits the mind to feed only on glimpses, has nevertheless an
undeniable source of energy in its enchanting capacity to suggest.
Without doubt suggestion exists also in art, but much more weakly, for
reasons that we shall indicate.

(3) Another characteristic of mystic imagination is the nature and the
great degree of belief accompanying it. We already know[102] that when
an image enters consciousness, even in the form of a recollection, of a
purely passive reproduction, it appears at first, and for a moment, just
as real as a percept. Much more so, in the case of imaginative
constructions. But this illusion has degrees, and with mystics it
attains its maximum.

In the scientific and practical world, the work of the imagination is
accompanied by only a conditional and provisional belief. The
construction in images must justify its existence, in the case of the
scientist, by explaining; and in the case of the man of affairs, by
being embodied in an invention that is useful and answers its purpose.

In the esthetic field, creation is accompanied by a momentary belief.
Fancy, remarks Groos, is necessarily joined to appearance. Its special
character does not consist merely in freedom in images; what
distinguishes it from association and from memory is this--that what is
merely representative is taken for the reality. The creative artist has
a conscious illusion (_bewusste Selbsttäuschung_): _the esthetic
pleasure is an oscillation between the appearance and the reality_.[103]

Mystic imagination presupposes an unconditioned and permanent belief.
Mystics are believers in the true sense--they have faith. This character
is peculiar to them, and has its origin in the intensity of the
affective state that excites and supports this form of invention.
Intuition becomes an object of knowledge only when clothed in images.
There has been much dispute as to the objective value of those symbolic
forms that are the working material of the mystic imagination. This
contest does not concern us here; but we may make the positive statement
that the constructive imagination has never obtained such a frequently
hallucinatory form as in the mystics. Visions, touch-illusions, external
voices, inner and "wordless" voices, which we now regard as psycho-motor
hallucinations--all that we meet every moment in their works, until they
become commonplace. But as to the nature of these psychic states there
are only two solutions possible--one, naturalistic, that we shall
indicate; the other, supernatural, which most theologians hold, and
which regards these phenomena as valid and true revelation. In either
case, the mystic imagination seems to us naturally tending toward
objectification. It tends outwardly, by a spontaneous movement that
places it on the same level as reality. Whichever conclusion we adopt,
no imaginative type has the same great gift of energy and permanence in


Mystic imagination, working along the lines peculiar to it, produces
cosmological, religious, and metaphysical constructions, a summary
exposition of which will help us understand its true nature.

(1) The all-embracing cosmological form is the conception of the world
by a purely imaginative being. It is rare, abnormal, and is nowadays met
with only in a few artists, dreamers, or morbidly esthetic persons, as a
kind of survival and temporary form. Thus, Victor Hugo sees in each
letter of the alphabet the pictured imitation of one of the objects
essential to human knowledge: "_A_ is the head, the gable, the
cross-beam, the arch, _arx_; _D_ is the back, _dos_; _E_ is the
basement, the console, etc., so that man's house and its architecture,
man's body and its structure, and then justice, music, the church, war,
harvesting, geometry, mountains, etc.--all that is comprised in the
alphabet through the mystic virtue of form."[104] Even more radical is
Gérard de Nerval (who, moreover, was frequently subject to
hallucinations): "At certain times everything takes on for me a new
aspect--secret voices come out of plant, tree, animals, from the
humblest insects, to caution and encourage me. Formless and lifeless
objects have mysterious turns the meaning of which I understand." To
others, contemporaries, "the real world is a fairy land."

The middle ages--a period of lively imagination and slight rational
culture--overflowed in this direction. "Many thought that on this earth
everything is a sign, a figure, and that the visible is worth nothing
except insofar as it covers up the invisible." Plants, animals--there is
nothing that does not become subject for interpretation; all the members
of the body are emblems; the head is Christ, the hairs are the saints,
the legs are the apostles, the eye is contemplation, etc. There are
extant special books in which all that is seriously explained. Who does
not know the symbolism of the cathedrals, and the vagaries to which it
has given rise? The towers are prayer, the columns the apostles, the
stones and the mortar the assembly of the faithful; the windows are the
organs of sense, the buttresses and abutments are the divine assistance;
and so on to the minutest detail.

In our day of intense intellectual development, it is not given to many
to return sincerely to a mental condition that recalls that of the
earliest times. Even if we come near it, we still find a difference.
Primitive man puts life, consciousness, activity, into everything;
symbolism does likewise, but it does not believe in an autonomous,
distinct, particular soul inherent in each thing. The absence of
abstraction and generalization, characteristic of humanity in its early
beginnings, when it peoples the world with myriads of animate beings,
has disappeared. Every source of activity revealed by symbols appears
as a fragmentary manifestation; it descends from a single primary,
personal or impersonal, spring. At the root of this imaginative
construction there is always either theism or pantheism.

(2) Mystical imagination has often and erroneously been identified with
religious imagination. Although it may be held that every religion, no
matter how dull and poor, presupposes a latent mysticism, because it
supposes an Unknown beyond the reach of sense, there are religions very
slightly mystical in fact--those of savages, strictly utilitarian; among
barbarians, the martial cults of the Germans and the Aztecs; among
civilized races, Rome and Greece.[105] However, even though the mystic
imagination is not confined to the bounds of religious thought, history
shows us that there it attains its completest expansion.

To be brief, and to keep strictly within our subject, let us note that
in the completely developed great religions there has arisen opposition
between the rationalists and the imaginative expounders, between the
dogmatists and the mystics. The former, rational architects, build by
means of abstract ideas, logical relations and methods, by deduction and
induction; the others, imaginative builders, care little for this
learned magnificence--they excel in vivid creations because the moving
energy with them is in their feelings, "in their hearts;" because they
speak a language made up of concrete images, and consequently their
wholly symbolic speech is at the same time an original construction. The
mystic imagination is a transformation of the mythic imagination, the
myth changing into symbols. It cannot escape the necessity of this. On
the other hand, the affective states cannot longer remain vague,
diffuse, purely internal; they must become fixed in time and space, and
condensed into images forming a personality, legend, event, or rite.
Thus, Buddha represents the tendencies towards pity and resignation,
summing up the aspirations for final rest. On the other hand, abstract
ideas, pure concepts, being repugnant to the mystic's nature, it is also
necessary that they take on images through which they may be seen--e.g.,
the relations between God and man, in the various forms of
communion; the idea of divine protection in incarnations, mediators,
etc. But the images made use of are not dry and colorless like words
that by long use have lost all direct representative value and are
merely marks or tags. Being symbolic, i.e., concrete, they are, as we
have seen, direct substitutes for reality, and they differ as much from
words as sketching and drawing differ from our alphabetical signs, which
are, however, their derivatives or abbreviations.

It must, however, be noted that if "the mystic fact is a naïve effort to
apprehend the absolute, a mode of symbolic, not dialectic, thinking,
that lives on symbols and finds in them the only fitting
expression,"[106] it seems that this imaginative phase has been to some
minds only an internal form, for they have attempted to go beyond it
through ecstacy, aspiring to grasp the ultimate principle as a pure
unity, without image and without form,[107] which metaphysical realism
hopes to attain by other methods and by a different route. However
interesting they may be for psychology, these attempts, luring one on
further and further, by their seeming or real elimination of every
symbolic element, become foreign to our subject, and we cannot consider
them at greater length here.

(3) "History shows that philosophy has done nothing but transform ideas
of mystic production, substituting for the form of images and
undemonstrated statements the form of assertions of a rational
system."[108] This declaration of a metaphysician saves us from dwelling
on the subject long.

When we seek the difference between religious and metaphysical or
philosophical symbolism, we find it in the nature of the constitutive
elements. Turned in the direction of religion, mystic symbolism
presupposes two principal elements--imagination and feeling; turned in
a metaphysical direction, it presupposes imagination and a very small
rational element. This substitution involves appreciable deviation
from the primitive type. The construction is of greater logical
regularity. Besides, and this is the important characteristic, the
subject-matter--though still resembling symbolic images--tends to
become concepts: such are vivified abstractions, allegorical beings,
hereditary entities of spirits and of gods. In short, metaphysical
mysticism is a transition-form towards metaphysical rationalism,
although these two tendencies have always been inimical in the history
of philosophy, just as in the history of religion.

In this imaginative plan of the world we may recognize stages according
to the increasing weakness of the systems, depending on the number and
quality of the hypotheses. For example, the progression is apparent
between Plotinus and the frenzied creations of the Gnostics and the
Cabalists. With the latter, we come into a world of unbridled fancy
which, in place of human romances, invents cosmic romances. Here appear
the allegorical beings mentioned above, half concept, half symbol; the
ten Sephiros of the Cabala, immutable forms of being; the _syzygies_ or
couples of Gnosticism--soul and reflection, depth and silence, reason
and life, inspiration and truth, etc.; the absolute manifesting itself
by the unfolding of fifty-two attributes, each unfolding comprising
seven _eons_, corresponding to the 364 days of the year, etc. It would
be wearisome to follow these extravagant thoughts, which, though the
learned may treat them with some respect, have for the psychologist only
the interest of pathologic evidence. Moreover, this form of mystic
imagination presents too little that is new for us to speak of it
without repeating ourselves.

To conclude: The mystic imagination, in its alluring freedom, its
variety, and its richness, is second to no form, not even to esthetic
invention, which, according to common prejudice, is the type _par
excellence_. Following the most venturesome methods of analogy, it has
constructed conceptions of the world made up almost wholly of feelings
and images--symbolic architectures.


[99] _Philosophy of the Unconscious_, I, part 2, ch. IX.

[100] J. Darmesteter, in Récéjac, _Essai sur les fondements de la
connaissance mystique_, p. 124.

[101] In such notions may perhaps be best found the genesis of the
present superstitions in regard to "lucky" and "unlucky" numbers,
like the number 13, which have such persistence. (Tr.)

[102] See Part Two, chapter II.

[103] Groos, _Die Spiele der Thiere_, pp. 308-312.

[104] Mabilleau, _op. cit._, p. 132.

[105] If we leave out oriental influences and the Mysteries, which,
according to Aristotle, were not dogmatic teaching, but a show, an
assemblage of symbols, acting by evocation, or suggestion, following
the special mode of mystic imagination that we already know.

[106] Récéjac, _op. cit._, pp. 139 ff.

[107] One at once calls to mind Plotinus, whose highest philosophy
is a kind of indescribable ecstacy. (Tr.)

[108] Hartmann, _op. cit._, vol. I, part 2, chapter IX.



It is quite generally recognized that imagination is indispensable in
all sciences; that without it we could only copy, repeat, imitate; that
it is a stimulus driving us onward and launching us into the unknown. If
there does exist a very widespread prejudice to the contrary--if many
hold that scientific culture throttles imagination--we must look for the
explanation of this view first, in the equivocation, pointed out several
times, that makes the essence of the creative imagination consist of
images, which are here most often replaced by abstractions or extracts
of things--whence it results that the created work does not have the
living forms of religion, of art, or even of mechanical invention; and
then, in the rational requirements regulating the development of the
creative faculty--it may not wander at will. In either case its end is
determined, and in order to exist, i.e., in order to be accepted, the
invention must become subject to preëstablished rules.

This variety of imagination being, after the esthetic form, the one
that psychologists have best described, we may therefore be brief. A
complete study of the subject, however, remains yet to be made. Indeed,
we may remark that there is no "scientific imagination" in general, that
its form must vary according to the nature of the science, and that,
consequently, it really resolves itself into a certain number of genera
and even of species. Whence arises the need of monographs, each one of
which should be the work of a competent man.

No one will question that mathematicians have a way of thinking all
their own; but even this is too general. The arithmetician, the
algebraist, and more generally the analyst, in whom invention obtains in
the most abstract form of discontinuous functions--symbols and their
relations--cannot imagine like the geometrician. One may well speak of
the ideal figures of geometry--the empirical origin of which is no
longer anywhere contested--but we cannot escape from representing them
as somehow in space. Does anyone think that Monge, the creator of
descriptive geometry, who by his work has aided builders, architects,
mechanics, stone cutters in their labors, could have the same type of
imagination as the mathematician who has been given up all his life to
the theory of number? Here, then, are at least two well-marked
varieties, to say nothing of mixed forms. The physicist's imagination is
necessarily more concrete; since he is incessantly obliged to refer to
the data of sense or to that totality of visual, tactile, motor,
acoustic, thermic, etc., representations that we term the "properties
of matter." Our eye, says Tyndall, cannot see sound waves contract and
dilate, but we construct them in thought--i.e., by means of visual
images. The same remarks are true of chemists. The founders of the
atomic theory certainly _saw_ atoms, and pictured them in the mind's
eye, and their arrangement in compound bodies. The complexity of the
imagination increases still more in the geologist, the botanist, the
zoologist; it approaches more and more, with its increasing details, to
the level of perception. The physician, in whom science becomes also an
art, has need of visual representations of the exterior and interior,
microscopic and macroscopic, of the various forms of diseased
conditions; auditory representations (auscultation); tactile
representations (touch, reverberation, etc.); and let us also add that
we are not speaking merely of diagnosis of diseases, which is a matter
of reproductive imagination, but of the discovery of a new pathologic
"entity," proven and made certain from the symptoms. Lastly, if we do
not hesitate to give a very broad extension to the term "scientific,"
and apply it also to invention in social matters, we shall see that the
latter is still more exacting, for one must represent to oneself not
only the elements of the past and of the present, but in addition
construct a picture of the future according to probable inductions and

It might be objected that the foregoing enumeration proves a great
variety in the _content_ of creative imagination but not in the
imagination itself, and that nothing has proven that, under all these
various aspects, there does not exist a so-called scientific
imagination, that always remains identical. This position is untenable.
For we have seen above[109] that there exists no creative instinct in
general, no one mere indeterminate "creative power," but only wants
that, in certain cases, excite novel combinations of images. The nature
of the separable materials, then, is a factor of the first importance;
it is determining, and indicates to the mind the direction in which it
is turned, and all treason in this regard is paid for by aborted
construction, by painful labor for some petty result. Invention,
separated from what gives it body and soul, is nothing but a pure

The monographs called for above would, then, be a not unneeded work. It
is only from them collectively that the rôle of the imagination in the
sciences could be completely shown, and we might by abstraction separate
out the characters common to all varieties--the essential marks of this
imaginative type.

Mathematics aside, all the sciences dealing with facts--from astronomy
to sociology--suppose three moments, namely, observation, conjecture,
verification. The first depends on external and internal sense, the
second on the creative imagination, the third on rational operations,
although the imagination is not entirely barred from it. In order to
study its influence on scientific development, we shall study it (a) in
the sciences in process of formation; (b) in the established sciences;
(c) in the processes of verification.


It has often been said that the perfection of a science is measured by
the amount of mathematics it requires; we might say, conversely, that
its lack of completeness is measured by the amount of imagination that
it includes. It is a psychological necessity. Where the human mind
cannot explain or prove, there it invents; preferring a semblance of
knowledge to its total absence.[110] Imagination fulfills the function
of a substitute; it furnishes a subjective, conjectural solution in
place of an objective, rational explanation. This substitution has

(1) The sway of the imagination is almost complete in the
pseudo-sciences (alchemy, astrology, magic, occultism, etc.), which it
would be more proper to call embryonic sciences, for they were the
beginnings of more exact disciplines and their fancies have not been
without use. In the history of science, this is the golden age of the
creative imagination, corresponding to the myth-making period already

(2) The semi-sciences, incompletely proved (certain portions of
biology, psychology, sociology, etc.), although they show a regression
of imaginative explanation repulsed by the hitherto absent or
insufficient experimentation, nevertheless abound in hypotheses, that
succeed, contradict, destroy one another. It is a commonplace truism
that does not need to be dwelt on--they furnish _ad libitum_ examples of
what has been rightly termed scientific mythology.

Aside from the quantity of imagination expended, often without great
profit, there is another character to be noted--the nature of the belief
that accompanies imaginative creation. We have already seen repeatedly
that the intensity of the imaginary conception is in direct ratio to the
accompanying belief, or rather, that the two phenomena are really
one--merely the two aspects of one and the same state of consciousness.
But faith--i.e., the adherence of the mind to an undemonstrated
assertion--is here at its maximum.

There are in the sciences hypotheses that are not believed in, that are
preserved for their didactic usefulness, because they furnish a simple
and convenient method of explanation. Thus the "properties of matter"
(heat, electricity, magnetism, etc.), regarded by physicists as distinct
qualities even in the first half of the last century; the "two electric
fluids;" cohesion, affinity, etc., in chemistry--these are some of the
convenient and admitted expressions to which, however, we attach no
explanatory value.

There is also to be mentioned the hypothesis held as an approximation
of reality--this is the truly scientific position. It is accompanied by
a provisional and ever-revocable belief. This is admitted, in principle
at least, by all scientists, and has been put into practice by many of

Lastly, there is the hypothesis regarded as the truth itself--one that
is accompanied by a complete, absolute, belief. But daily observation
and history show us that in the realm of embryonic and ill-proven
sciences this disposition is more flourishing than anywhere else. _The
less proof there is, the more we believe._ This attitude, however wrong
from the standpoint of the logician, seems to the psychologist natural.
The mind clings tenaciously to the hypothesis because the latter is its
own creation, or, because in adopting it, it seems to the mind that it
should have itself discovered the hypothesis, so much does the latter
harmonize with its inner states. Let us take the hypothesis of
evolution, for example: we need not mention its high philosophical
bearing, and the immense influence that it exerts on almost all forms of
human thought. Nevertheless, it still remains an hypothesis; but for
many it is an indisputable and inviolable dogma, raised far above all
controversy. They accept it with the uncompromising fervor of believers:
a new proof of the underlying connection between imagination and
belief--they increase and decrease _pari passu_.


Should we assign as belonging solely to the imagination every invention
or discovery--in a word, whatever is new--in the well-organized sciences
that form a body of solid, constantly-broadening doctrine? It is a hard
question. That which raises scientific knowledge above popular knowledge
is the use of an experimental method and rigorous reasoning processes;
but, is not induction and deduction going from the known to the unknown?
Without desiring to depreciate the method and its value, it must
nevertheless be admitted that it is preventive, not inventive. It
resembles, says Condillac, the parapets of a bridge, which do not help
the traveler to walk, but keep him from falling over. It is of value
especially as a habit of mind. People have wisely discoursed on the
"methods" of invention. There are none; but for which fact we could
manufacture inventors just as we make mechanics and watchmakers. It is
the imagination that invents, that provides the rational faculties with
their materials, with the position, and even the solution of their
problems. Reasoning is only a means for control and proof; it transforms
the work of the imagination into acceptable, logical results. If one has
not imagined beforehand, the logical method is aimless and useless, for
we cannot reason concerning the completely unknown. Even when a problem
seems to advance towards solution wholly through the reason, the
imagination ceaselessly intervenes in the form of a succession of
groupings, trials, guesses, and possibilities that it proposes. The
function of method is to determine its value, to accept or reject

Let us show by a few examples that conjecture, the work of the combining
imagination, is at the root of the most diverse scientific

Every mathematical invention is at first only an hypothesis that must be
demonstrated, i.e., must be brought under previously established
general principles: prior to the decisive moment of rational
verification it is only a thing imagined. "In a conversation concerning
the place of imagination in scientific work," says Liebig, "a great
French mathematician expressed the opinion to me that the greater part
of mathematical truth is acquired not through deduction, but through the
imagination. He might have said 'all the mathematical truths,' without
being wrong." We know that Pascal discovered the thirty-second
proposition of Euclid all by himself. It is true that it has been
concluded, wrongly perhaps, that he had also discovered all the earlier
ones, the order followed by the Greek geometrician not being necessary,
and not excluding other arrangements. However it be, reasoning alone was
not enough for that discovery. "Many people," says Naville, "of whom I
am one, might have thought hard all their lives without finding out the
thirty-two propositions of Euclid." This fact alone shows clearly the
difference between invention and demonstration, imagination and reason.

In the sciences dealing with facts, all the best-established
experimental truths have passed through a conjectural stage. History
permits no doubt on this point. What makes it appear otherwise is the
fact that for centuries there has gradually come to be formed a body of
solid belief, making a whole, stored away in classic treatises from
which we learn from childhood, and in which they seem to be arranged of
themselves. We are not told of the series of checks and failures through
which[113] they have passed. Innumerable are the inventions that
remained for a long time in a state of conjecture, matters of pure
imagination, because various circumstances did not permit them to take
shape, to be demonstrated and verified. Thus, in the thirteenth century,
Roger Bacon had a very clear idea of a construction on rails similar to
our railroads; of optical instruments that would permit, as does the
telescope, to see very far, and to discover the invisible. It is even
claimed that he must have foreseen the phenomena of interferences, the
demonstration of which had to be awaited ten centuries.

On the other hand, there are guesses that have met success without much
delay, but in which the imaginative phase--that of the invention
preceding all demonstration--is easy to locate. We know that
Tycho-Brahé, lacking inventive genius but rich in capacity for exact
observation, met Kepler, an adventurous spirit: together, the two made a
complete scientist. We have seen how Kepler, guided by a preconceived
notion of the "harmony of the spheres," after many trials and
corrections, ended by discovering his laws. Copernicus recognized
expressly that his theory was suggested to him by an hypothesis of
Pythagoras--that of a revolution of the earth about a central fire,
assumed to be in a fixed position. Newton imagined his hypothesis of
gravitation from the year 1666 on, then abandoned it, the result of his
calculations disagreeing with observation; finally he took it up again
after a lapse of a few years, having obtained from Paris the new measure
of the terrestrial meridian that permitted him to prove his guess. In
relating his discoveries, Lavoisier is lavish in expressions that leave
no doubt as to their originally conjectural character. "He _suspects_
that the air of the atmosphere is not a simple thing, but is composed of
two very different substances." "He _presumes_ that the permanent
alkalies (potash, soda) and the earths (lime, magnesia) should not be
considered simple substances." And he adds: "What I present here is at
the most no more than a mere _conjecture_." We have mentioned above the
case of Darwin. Besides, the history of scientific discoveries is full
of facts of this sort.

The passage from the imaginative to the rational phase may be slow or
sudden. "For eight months," says Kepler, "I have seen a first glimmer;
for three months, daylight; for the last week I see the sunlight of the
most wonderful contemplation." On the other hand, Haüy drops a bit of
crystallized calcium spar, and, looking at one of the broken prisms,
cries out, "All is found!" and immediately verifies his quick intuition
in regard to the true nature of crystallization. We have already
indicated[114] the psychological reasons for these differences.

Underneath all the reasoning, inductions, deductions, calculations,
demonstrations, methods, and logical apparatus of every sort, there is
something animating them that is not understood, that is the work of
that complex operation--the constructive imagination.

To conclude: The hypothesis is a creation of the mind, invested with a
provisional reality that may, after verification, become permanent.
False hypotheses are characterized as imaginary, by which designation is
meant that they have not become freed from the first state. But for
psychology they are different neither in their origin nor in their
nature from those scientific hypotheses that, subjected to the power of
reason or of experiment, have come out victorious. Besides, in addition
to abortive hypotheses, there are dethroned ones. What theory was more
clinging, more fascinating in its applications, than that of phlogiston?
Kant[115] praised it as one of the greatest discoveries of the
eighteenth century. The development of the sciences is replete with
these downfalls. They are psychological regressions: the invention,
considered for a time as adequate to reality, decays, returns to the
imaginative phase whence it seems to have emerged, and remains pure


Imagination is not absent from the third stage of scientific research,
in demonstration and experimentation, but here we must be brief, (1)
because it passes to a minor place, yielding its rank to other modes of
investigation, and (2) because this study would have to become doubly
employed with the practical and mechanical imagination, which will
occupy our attention later. The imagination is here only an auxiliary, a
useful instrument, serving:

(1) In the sciences of reasoning, to discover ingenious methods of
demonstration, stratagems for avoiding or overcoming difficulties.

(2) In the experimental sciences for inventing methods of research or of
control--whence its analogy, above mentioned, to the practical
imagination. Furthermore, the reciprocal influence of these two forms of
imagination is a matter of common observation: a scientific discovery
permits the invention of new instruments; the invention of new
instruments makes possible experiments that are increasingly more
complicated and delicate.

One remark further: This constructive imagination at the third stage is
the only one met with in many scientists. They lack genius for
invention, but discover details, additions, corrections, improvements. A
recent author distinguishes (a) those who have created the hypothesis,
prepared the experiments, and imagined the appropriate apparatus; (b)
those who have imagined the hypothesis and the experiment, but use means
already invented; and (c) those who, having found the hypothesis made
and demonstrated, have thought out a new method of verification.[116]
The scientific imagination becomes poorer as we follow it down this
scale, which, however, bears no relation to exactness of reasoning and
firmness of method.

Neglecting species and varieties, we may reduce the fundamental
characters of the scientific imagination to the following:

For its material, it has concepts, the degree of abstraction of which
varies with the nature of the science.

It employs only those associational forms that have an objective basis,
although its mission is to form new combinations, "the discoveries
consisting of the relation of ideas, capable of being united, which
hitherto have been isolated."[117] (Laplace.) All association with an
affective basis is strictly excluded.

It aims toward objectivity: in its conjectural construction it attempts
to reproduce the order and connection of things. Whence its natural
affinity for realistic art, which is midway between fiction and reality.

It is unifying, and so just the opposite of the esthetic imagination,
which is rather developmental. It puts forward the master idea (Claude
Bernard's _idée directrice_), a center of attraction and impulse that
enlivens the entire work. The principle of unity, without which no
creation succeeds, is nowhere more visible than in the scientific
imagination. Even when illusory, it is useful. Pasteur, scrupulous
scientist that he was, did not hesitate to say: "The experimenter's
illusions are a part of his power: they are the preconceived ideas
serving as guides for him."


It does not seem to me wrong to regard the imagination of the
metaphysician as a variety of the scientific imagination. Both arise
from one and the same requirement. Several times before this we have
emphasized this point--that the various forms of imagination are not the
work of an alleged "creative instinct," but that each particular one has
arisen from a special need. The scientific imagination has for its prime
motive the need of _partial_ knowledge or explanation; the metaphysical
imagination has for its prime motive the need of a _total_ or complete
explanation. The latter is no longer an endeavor on a restricted group
of phenomena, but a conjecture as to the totality of things, as
aspiration toward completely unified knowledge, a need of final
explanation that, for certain minds, is just as imperious as any other

This necessity is expressed by the creation of a cosmic or human
hypothesis constructed after the type and methods of scientific
hypotheses, but radically subjective in its origin--only apparently
objective. _It is a rationalized myth._

The three moments requisite for the constitution of a science are found
here, but in a modified form: reflection replaces observation, the
choice of the hypothesis becomes all-important, and its application to
everything corresponds to scientific proof.

(1) The first moment or preparatory stage, does not belong to our
subject. It requires, however, a word in passing. In all science,
whether well or ill established, firm or weak, we start from facts
derived from observation or experiment. Here, facts are replaced by
general ideas. The terminus of every science is, then, the
starting-point of philosophical speculation:--metaphysics begins where
each separate science ends; and the limits of the latter are theories,
hypotheses. These hypotheses become working material for metaphysics
which, consequently, is an hypothesis built on hypotheses, a conjecture
grafted on conjecture, a work of imagination superimposed on works of
imagination. Its principal source, then, is imagination, to which
reflection applies itself.

Metaphysicians, indeed, hold that the object of their researches, far
from being symbolic and abstract, as in science, or fictitious and
imaginary, as in art, is the very essence of things,--absolute reality.
Unfortunately, they have never proven that it suffices to seek in order
to find, and to wish in order to get.

(2) The second stage is critical. It is concerned with finding the
principle that rules and explains everything. In the invention of his
theory the metaphysician gives his measure, and permits us to value his
imaginative power. But the hypothesis, which in science is always
provisional and revocable, is here the supreme reality, the fixed
position, the _inconcussum quid_.

The choice of the principle depends on several causes: The chief of
these is the creator's individuality. Every metaphysician has a point of
view, a personal way of contemplating and interpreting the totality of
things, a belief that tends to recruit adherents.

Secondary causes are: the influence of earlier systems, the sum of
acquired knowledge, the social _milieu_, the variable predominance of
religions, sciences, morality, esthetic culture.

Without troubling ourselves with classifications, otherwise very
numerous, into which we may group systems (idealism, materialism,
monism, etc.) we shall, for our purpose, divide metaphysicians into the
imaginative and rational, according as the imagination is superior to
the reason or the reason rules the imagination. The differences between
these two types of mind, already clearly shown in the choice of the
hypothesis, are proven in its development.

(3) The fundamental principle, indeed, must come out of its state of
involution and justify its universal validity by explaining everything.
This is the third moment, when the scientific process of verification is
replaced by a process of construction.

All imaginative metaphysics have a dynamic basis, e.g., the Platonic
_Ideas_, Leibniz' _Monadology_, the _Nature-philosophy_ of Schelling,
Schopenhauer's _Will_, and Hartmann's _Unconscious_, the mystics, the
systems that assume a world-soul, etc. Semi-abstract, semi-poetic
constructions, they are permeated with imagination not only in the
general conception, but also in the numberless details of its
application. Such are the "fulgurations" of Leibniz, those very rich
digressions of Schopenhauer, etc. They have the fascination of a work of
art as much as that of science, and this is no longer questioned by
metaphysicians themselves;[118] they are living things.

Rational metaphysics, on the other hand, have a chilly aspect, which
brings them nearer the abstract sciences. Such are most of the
mechanical conceptions, the Hegelian _Dialectic_, Spinoza's construction
_more geometrico_, the _Summa_ of the Middle Ages. These are buildings
of concepts solidly cemented together with logical relations. But art is
not wholly absent; it is seen in the systematic concatenation, in the
beautiful ordering, in the symmetry of division, in the skill with which
the generative principle is constantly brought in, in showing it
ever-present, explaining everything. It has been possible to compare
these systems with the architecture of the Gothic cathedrals, in which
the dominant idea is incessantly repeated in the numberless details of
the construction, and in the branching multiplicity of ornamentation.

Further, whatever view we adopt as to its ultimate value, it must be
recognized that the imagination of the great metaphysicians, by the
originality and fearlessness of its conceptions, by its skill in
perfecting all parts of its work, is inferior to no other form. It is
equal to the highest, if it does not indeed surpass them.


[109] See Part I, chapter II.

[110] Cf. the Preface to Kant's _Critique of Pure Reason_. "Our
reason ... is always troubled with questions which cannot be
ignored, because they spring from the very nature of reason, and
which cannot be answered, because they transcend the powers of human
reason." (Tr.)

[111] In the rare _Notes_ that he has left, James Watt writes that
one afternoon he had gone out for a stroll on the Green at Glasgow,
and his thoughts were absorbed with the experiments in which he was
busied, trying to prevent the cooling of the cylinder. The thought
then came to him that steam, being an elastic fluid, should expand
and be precipitated in a space formerly void; and having made a
vacuum in a separate vessel and opened communication between the
steam of the cylinder and the vacant space, we see what should
follow. Thus, having imagined the masterpiece of his discovery, he
enumerates the processes that, employed in turn, allowed him to
perfect it.

[112] For further information we refer to the _Logique de
l'hypothèse_, by E. Naville, from which are borrowed most of the
facts here given.

[113] This much-criticised defect has been only partially overcome
in our methods of education through "object" lessons, and, if we may
call them so, evolutionary methods, showing to the child "wie es
eigentlich gewesen." Cf. J. Dewey, "_The School and Society_." (Tr.)

[114] See above, Part Two, chapter IV.

[115] Preface to the _Critique of Pure Reason_.

[116] Colozza, _L'immaginazione nella Scienza_ (Paravia, 1900), pp.
89 ff. In this author will be found abundant details respecting
famous discoveries or experiments--those of Galileo, Franklin,
Grimaldi, etc.

[117] Here is an example in confirmation, taken from Duclaux's book
on Pasteur: Herschel established a relation between the crystalline
structure of quartz and the rotatory power of the substance; later
on, Biot established it for sugar, tartaric acid, etc.--i.e., for
substances in solution, whence he concluded that the rotatory power
is due to the form of the molecule itself, not to the arrangement of
the molecules in relation to one another. Pasteur discovered a
relation between molecular dyssymmetry and hemiedry, and the study
of hemiedry in crystals led him logically to that of fermentation
and spontaneous generation.

[118] On this point cf. Fouillée, _L'Avenir de la Metaphysique_, pp.
79 ff.



The study of the practical imagination is not without difficulties.
First of all, it has not hitherto attracted psychologists, so that we
enter the field at random, and wander unguided in an unexplored region.
But the principal obstacle is in the lack of determination of this form
of imagination, and in the absence of boundary lines. Where does it
begin, and where does it end? Penetrating all our life even in its least
details, it is likely to lead us astray through the diversity, often
insignificant, of its manifestations. To convince ourselves of this
fact, let us take a man regarded as least imaginative:--subtract the
moments when his consciousness is busied with perceptions, memories,
emotions, logical thought and action--all the rest of his mental life
must be put down to the credit of the imagination. Even thus limited,
this function is not a negligible quantity:--it includes the plans and
constructions for the future, and all the dreams of escaping from the
present; and there is no man but makes such. This had to be mentioned
on account of its very triteness, because it is often forgotten, and
consequently the field of the creative imagination is unduly restricted,
being limited little by little to exceptional cases.

It must, however, be recognized that these small facts teach us little.
Consequently, following our adopted procedure, dwelling longest on the
clearer and more evident cases in which the work of creating appears
distinctly, we shall rapidly pass over the lower forms of the practical
imagination, in order to dwell on the higher form--technical or
mechanical imagination.


If we take an ordinary imaginative person,--understanding by this
expression, one whom his nature singles out for no special invention--we
see that he excels in the small inventions, adapted for a moment, for a
detail, for the petty needs constantly arising in human life. It is a
fruitful, ingenious, industrious mind, one that knows how to "take hold
of things." The active, enterprising American, capable of passing from
one occupation to another according to circumstances, opportunity, or
imagined profits, furnishes a good example.

If we descend from this form of sane imagination toward the morbid
forms, we meet first the unstable--knights of industry, hunters of
adventure, inventors frequently of questionable means, people hungry for
change, always imagining what they haven't, trying in turn all
professions, becoming workmen, soldiers, sailors, merchants, etc., not
from expediency, but from natural instability.

Further down are found the acknowledged "freaks" at the brink of
insanity, who are but the extreme form of the unstable, and who, after
having wasted haphazard much useless imagination, end in an insane
asylum or worse still.

Let us consider these three groups together. Let us eliminate the
intellectual and moral qualities characteristic of each group, which
establish notable differences between them, and let us consider only
their inventive capacity as applied to practical life. One character
common to all is mobility--the tendency to change. It is a matter of
current observation that men of lively imagination are changeable.
Common opinion, which is also the opinion of moralists and of most
psychologists, attributes this mobility, this instability, to the
imagination. This, in my opinion, is just upside down. _It is not
because they have an active imagination that they are changeable, but it
is because they are changeable that their imagination is active._ We
thus return to the _motor_ basis of all creative work. Each new or
merely modified disposition becomes a center of attraction and pull.
Doubtless the inner push is a necessary condition, but it is not
sufficient. If there were not within them a sufficient number of
concrete, abstract, or semi-abstract representations, susceptible of
various combinations, nothing would happen; but the origin of invention
and of its frequent or constant changes of direction lies in the
emotional and motor constitution, not in the quantity or quality of
representations. I shall not dwell longer on a subject already
treated,[119] but it was proper to show, in passing, that common opinion
starts from an erroneous conception of the primary conditions of
invention--whether great or small, speculative or practical.

In the immense empire of the practical imagination, superstitious
beliefs form a goodly province.

What is superstition? By what positive signs do we recognize it? An
exact definition and a sure criterion are impossible. It is a flitting
notion that depends on the times, places, and nature of minds. Has it
not often been said that the religion of one is superstition to another,
and _vice versâ_? This, too, is only a single instance from among many
others; for the common opinion that restricts superstition within the
bounds of religious faith is an incomplete view. There are peculiar
beliefs, foreign to every dogma and every religious feeling, from which
the most radical freethinker is not exempt; for example, the
superstitions of gamblers. Indeed, at the bottom of all such beliefs, we
always find the vague, semi-conscious notion of a mysterious
power--destiny, fate, chance.

Without taking the trouble to set arbitrary limits, let us take the
facts as they are, without possible question, i.e., imaginary
creations, subjective fancies, having reality only for those admitting
them. Even a summary collection of past and present superstitions would
fill a library. Aside from those having a frankly religious mark, others
almost as numerous surround civil life, birth, marriage, death,
appearance and healing of diseases, _dies fasti atque nefasti_,
propitious or fateful words, auguries drawn from the meeting or acts of
certain animals. The list would be endless.[120]

All that can be attempted here is a determination of the principal
condition of that state of mind, the psychology of which is in the last
analysis very simple. We shall thus answer in an indirect and incomplete
manner the question of criterion.

First, since we hold that the origin of all imaginative creation is a
need, a desire, a tendency, where then is the origin of that
inexhaustible fount of fancies? _In the instinct for individual
preservation_, orientated in the direction of the future. Man seeks to
divine future events, and by various means to act on the order of things
to modify it for his own advantage or to appease his evil fate.

As for the mental mechanism that, set in motion by this desire, produces
the vain images of the superstitious, it implies:

(1) A deep idea of causality, reduced to a _post hoc, ergo propter hoc_.
Herodotus says of the Egyptian priests: "They have discovered more
prodigies and presages than any other people, because, when some
extraordinary thing appears, they note it as well as all the events
following it, so that if a similar prodigy appears anew, they expect to
see the same events reproduced." It is the hypothesis of an indissoluble
association between two or more events, assumed without verification,
without criticism. This manner of thinking depends on the weakness of
the logical faculties or on the excessive influence of the feelings.

(2) The abuse of reasoning by analogy. This great artisan of the
imagination is satisfied with likenesses so vague and agreements so
strange, that it dares everything. Resemblance is no longer a quality of
things imposed on the mind, but an hypothesis of the mind imposed on
things. Astrology groups into "constellations" stars that are billions
of miles apart, believes that it discovers there an animal shape, human
or any other, and deduces therefrom alleged "influences." This star is
reddish (Mars), sign of blood; this other is of a pure, brilliant
silvery light (Venus) or livid (Saturn), and acts in a different way. We
know what clever structures of conjectures and prognoses have been built
on these foundations. Need we mention the Middle Age practice of charms,
which even in our day still has adherents among cultured people? The
physicians of the time of Charles II, says Lang, gave their patients
"mummy powder" (pulverized mummies) because the mummies, having lasted a
long time, must prolong life.[121] Gold in solution has been esteemed
as a medicine--gold, being a perfect substance, should produce perfect
health. In order to get rid of a disease nothing is more frequent among
primitive men than to picture the sick person on wood or on the ground,
and to strike the injured part with an arrow or knife, in order to
annihilate the sickening principle.

(3) Finally, there is the magic influence ascribed to certain words. It
is the triumph of the theory of _nomina numina_; we need not return to
it. But the working of the mind on words, erecting them into entities,
conferring life and power on them--in a word, the activity that creates
myths and is the final basis of all constructive imagination--appears
also here.[122]


Up to this point we have considered the practical imagination only in
its somewhat petty aspect in small inventions or as semi-morbid in
superstitious fancies. We now come to its higher form, mechanical

This subject has not been studied by psychologists. Not that they have
misunderstood its rôle, which is, after all, very evident; but they
limit themselves to speak of it cursorily, without emphasizing it.

In order to appreciate its importance, I see no other way than to put
ourselves face to face with the works that it has produced, to question
the history of discovery and useful arts, to profit by the disclosures
of inventors and their biographers.

Of a work of this kind, which would be very long because the materials
are scattered, we can give here only a rough sketch, merely to take
therefrom what is of interest for psychology and what teaches us in
regard to the characters peculiar to this type of imagination.

The erroneous view that opposes imagination to the useful, and claims
that they are mutually exclusive, is so widespread and so persistent,
that we shall seem to many to be expressing a paradox when we say that
if we could strike the balance of the imagination that man has spent and
made permanent in esthetic life on the one hand, and in technical and
mechanical invention on the other, the balance would be in favor of the
latter. This assertion, however, will not seem paradoxical to those who
have considered the question. Why, then, the view above mentioned? Why
are people inclined to believe that our present subject, if not entirely
foreign to the imagination, is only an impoverished form of it? I
account for it by the following reasons:

Esthetic imagination, when fully complete, is simply _fixed_, i.e.,
remains a fictitious matter recognized as such. It has a frankly
subjective, personal character, arbitrary in its choice of means. A work
of art--a poem, a novel, a drama, an opera, a picture, a statue--might
have been otherwise than it is. It is possible to modify the general
plan, to add or reduce an episode, to change an ending. The novelist who
in the course of his work changes his characters; the dramatic author
who, in deference to public sentiment, substitutes a happy _denoûement_
in place of a catastrophe, furnish naïve testimony of this freedom of
imagination. Moreover, artistic creation, expressing itself in words,
sounds, lines, forms, colors, is cast in a mould that allows it only a
feeble "material" reality.

The mechanical imagination is objective--it must be embodied, take on a
form that gives it a place side by side with products of nature. It is
arbitrary neither in its choice nor in its means; it is not a free
creature having its end in itself. In order to succeed, it is subjected
to rigorous physical conditions, to a determinism. It is at this cost
that it becomes a reality, and as we instinctively establish an
antithesis between the imaginary and the real, it seems that mechanical
invention is outside the realm of the imagination. Moreover, it requires
the constant intervention of calculation, of reasoning, and lastly, of a
manual operation of supreme importance. We may say without exaggerating
that the success of many mechanical creations depends on the skillful
manipulation of materials. But this last moment, because it is decisive,
should not make us forget its antecedents, especially the initial
moment, which is, for psychology, similar to all other instances of
invention, when the idea arises, tending to become objective.

Otherwise, the differences here pointed out between the two forms of
imagination--esthetic and mechanical--are but relative. The former is
not independent of technical apprenticeship, often of long duration (e.g.,
in music, sculpture, painting). As for the latter, we should not
exaggerate its determinism. Often the same end can be reached by
different inventions--by means differently imagined, through different
mental constructions; and it follows that, after all allowances are
made, these differently realized imaginations are equally useful.

The difference between the two types is found in the nature of the need
or desire stimulating the invention, and secondly in the nature of the
materials employed. Others have confounded two distinct things--liberty
of imagination, which belongs rather to esthetic creation, and quality
and power of imagination, which may be identical in both cases.

I have questioned certain inventors very skillful in mechanics,
addressing myself to those, preferably, whom I knew to be strangers to
any preconceived psychological theory. Their replies agree, and prove
that the birth and development of mechanical invention are very
strictly like those found in other forms of constructive imagination. As
an example, I cite the following statement of an engineer, which I
render literally:

"The so-called creative imagination surely proceeds in very different
ways, according to temperament, aptitudes, and, in the same individual,
following the mental disposition, the _milieu_.

"We may, however, as far as regards mechanical inventions, distinguish
four sufficiently clear phases--the germ, incubation, flowering, and

"By germ I mean the first idea coming to the mind to furnish a solution
for a problem that the whole of one's observations, studies, and
researches has put before one, or that, put by another, has struck one.

"Then comes incubation, often very long and painful, or, again, even
unconscious. Instinctively as well as voluntarily one brings to the
solution of the problem all the materials that the eyes and ears can

"When this latent work is sufficiently complete, the idea suddenly
bursts forth, it may be at the end of a voluntary tension of mind, or on
the occasion of a chance remark, tearing the veil that hides the
surmised image.

"But this image always appears simple and clear. In order to get the
ideal solution into practice, there is required a struggle against
matter, and the bringing to an issue is the most thankless part of the
inventor's work.

"In order to give consistence and body to the idea caught sight of
enthusiastically in an aureole, one must have patience, a perseverance
through all trials. One must view on all sides the mechanical agencies
that should serve to set the image together, until the latter has
attained the simplicity that alone makes invention viable. In this work
of bringing to a head, the same spirit of invention and imagination must
be constantly drawn upon for the solution of all the details, and it is
against this arduous requirement that the great majority of inventors
rebel again and again.

"This is then, I believe, how one may in a general way understand the
genesis of an invention. It follows from this that here, as almost
everywhere, the imagination acts through association of ideas.

"Thanks to a profound acquaintance with known mechanical methods, the
inventor succeeds, through association of ideas, in getting novel
combinations producing new effects, towards the realization of which his
mind has in advance been bent."

But for a slightly explored subject, the foregoing remarks are not
enough. It is necessary to determine more precisely the general and
special characters of this form of imagination.

_1. General Characters_

I term general characters those that the mechanical imagination
possesses in common with the best known, least questioned forms of the
constructive imagination. In order to be convinced that, so far as
concerns these characters it does not differ from the rest, let us take,
for the sake of comparison, esthetic imagination, since it is agreed,
rightly or wrongly, that this is the model _par excellence_. We shall
see that the essential psychological conditions coincide in the two

The mechanical imagination thus has like the other its ideal, i.e., a
perfection conceived and put forward as capable, little by little, of
being realized. The idea is at first hidden; it is, to use our
correspondent's phrase, "the germ," the principle of unity, center of
attraction, that suggests, excites, and groups appropriate associations
of images, in which it is enwrapped and organized into a structure, an
_ensemble_ of means converging toward a common end. It thus presupposes
a dissociation of experience. The inventor undoes, decomposes, breaks up
in thought, or makes of experience a tool, an instrument, a machine, an
agency for building anew with the débris.

The practical imagination is no more foreign to inspiration than the
esthetic imagination. The history of useful inventions is full of men
who suffered privations, persecution, ruin; who fought to the bitter end
against relatives and friends--drawn by the need of creating, fascinated
not by the hope of future gain but by the idea of an imposed mission, of
a destiny they had to fulfill. What more have poets and artists done?
The fixed and irresistible idea has led more than one to a foreseen
death, as in the discovery of explosives, the first attempts at
lightning conductors, aeronautics, and many others. Thus, from a true
intuition, primitive civilizations have put on a level great poets and
great inventors, erected into divinities or demi-gods historical or
legendary personages in whom the genius of discovery is
personified:--among the Hindoos, Vicavakarma; among the Greeks,
Hephaestos, Prometheus, Triptolemus, Daedalus and Icarus. The Chinese,
despite their dry imagination, have done the same; and we find the same
condition in Egypt, Assyria, and everywhere. Moreover, the practical and
mechanical arts have passed through a first period of no-change, during
which the artisan, subjected to fixed rules and an undisputed tradition,
considers himself an instrument of divine revelation.[123] Little by
little he has emerged from that theological age, to enter the humanistic
age, when, being fully conscious of being the author of his work, he
labors freely, changes and modifies according to his own inspiration.

Mechanical and industrial imagination, like esthetic imagination, has
its preparatory period, its zenith and decline: the periods of the
precursors, of the great inventors, and of mere perfectors. At first a
venture is made, effort is wasted with small result,--the man has come
too early or lacks clear vision; then a great imaginative mind arises,
blossoms; after him the work passes into the hands of _dii minores_,
pupils or imitators, who add, abridge, modify: such is the order. The
many-times written history of the application of steam, from the time of
the eolipile of Hero of Alexandria to the heroic period of Newcomen and
Watt, and the improvements made since their time, is one proof of the
statement. Another example:--the machine for measuring duration is at
first a simple clepsydra; then there are added marks indicating the
subdivisions of time, then a water gauge causes a hand to move around a
dial, then two hands for the hours and minutes; then comes a great
moment--by the use of weights the clepsydra becomes a clock, at first
massive and cumbersome, later lightened, becoming capable, with
Tycho-Brahé, of marking seconds; and then another moment--Huyghens
invents the spiral spring to replace the weights, and the clock,
simplified and lightened, becomes the watch.

_2. Special Characters_

The special characteristics of the mechanical imagination being the
marks belonging to this type, we shall study them at greater length.

(I) There is first of all, at least in great inventors, an inborn
quality,--that is, a natural disposition,--that does not originate in
experience and owes the latter only its development. This quality is a
bent in a practical, useful direction; a tendency to act, not in the
realm of dreams or human feeling, not on individuals or social groups,
not toward the attainment of theoretical knowledge of nature, but to
become master over natural forces, to transform them and adapt them
toward an end.

Every mechanical invention arises from a need: from the strict necessity
for individual preservation in the case of primitive man who wages war
against the powers of nature; from the desire for well-being and the
necessity for luxury in growing civilization; from the need of creating
little engines, imitating instruments and machines, in the child. In a
word, _every particular invention, great or small, arises from a
particular need_; for, we repeat again, there is no creative instinct in
general. A man distinguished for various inventions along practical
lines, writes: "As far as my memory allows, I can state that in my case
conception always results from a material or mental need.[124] It
springs up suddenly. Thus, in 1887, a speech of Bismarck made me so
angry that I immediately thought of arming my country with a repeating
rifle. I had already made various applications to the ministry of war,
when I learned that the Lebel system had just been adopted. My
patriotism was fully satisfied, but I still have the design of the gun
that I invented." This communication mentions two or three other
inventions that arose under analogous circumstances, but have had a
chance of being adopted.

Among the requisite qualities I mention the natural and necessary
preëminence of certain groups of sensations or images (visual, tactile,
motor) that may be decisive in determining the direction of the

(II) Mechanical invention grows by successive stratifications and
additions, as in the sciences, but more completely. It is a fine
verification of the "subsidiary law of growing complexity" previously
discussed.[125] If we measure the distance traversed since the distant
ages when man was naked and unarmed before nature to the present time of
the reign of machinery, we are astonished at the amount of imagination
produced and expended, often uselessly lavished, and we ask ourselves
how such a work could have been misunderstood or so lightly appreciated.
It does not pertain to our subject to make even a summary table of this
long development. The reader can consult the special works which,
unfortunately, are most often fragmentary and lack a general view. So we
should feel grateful to a historian of the useful arts, L. Bourdeau,
for having attempted to separate out the philosophy of the subject, and
for having fastened it down in the following formulas:[126]

(a) The exploitation of the powers of nature is made according to their
degree of power.

(b) The extension of working instruments has followed a logical
evolution in the direction of growing complexity and perfection.

Man, according to the observations of M. Bourdeau, has applied his
creative activity to natural forces and has set them to work according
to a regular order, viz.:

(1) Human forces, the only ones available during the "state of nature"
and the savage state. Before all else, man created weapons: the most
circumscribed primitive races have invented engines for attack and
defense--of wood, bone, stone, as they were able. Then the weapon became
a tool by special adaptation:--the battle-club serves as a lever, the
tomahawk as a hammer, the flint ax as a hatchet, etc. In this manner
there is gradually formed an arsenal of instruments. "Inferior to most
animals as regards certain work that would have to be done with the aid
of our organic resources alone, we are superior to all as soon as we set
our tools at work. If the rodents with their sharp teeth cut wood better
than we can, we do it still better with the ax, the chisel, the saw.
Some birds, with the help of a strong beak, by repeated blows,
penetrate the trunk of a tree: but the auger, the gimlet, the wimble do
the same work better and more quickly. The knife is superior to the
carnivore's teeth for tearing meat; the hoe better than the mole's paw
for digging earth, the trowel than the beaver's tail for beating and
spreading mortar. The oar permits us to rival the fish's fin; the sail,
the wing of the bird. The distaff and spindle allow our imitating the
industry of insect spinners; etc. Man thus reproduces and sums up in his
technical contrivances the scattered perfections of the animal world. He
even succeeds in surpassing them, because, in the form of tools, he uses
substances and combinations of effects that cannot figure as part of an
organism."[127] It is scarcely likely that most of these inventions
arose from a voluntary imitation of animals: but even supposing such an
origin, there would still remain a fine place for personal creative
work. Man has produced by conscious effort what life realizes by methods
that escape us; so that the creative imagination in man is a
_succedaneum_ of the generative powers of nature.

(2) During the pastoral stage man brought animals under subjection and
discipline. An animal is a machine, ready-made, that needs only to be
trained to obedience; but this training has required and stimulated all
sorts of inventions, from the harness with which to equip it, to the
chariots, wagons, and roads with which and on which it moves.

(3) Later, the natural motors--air and water--have furnished new
material for human ingenuity, e.g., in navigation; wind- and
water-mills, used at first to grind grain, then for a multitude of
uses--sawing, milling, lifting hammers; etc.

(4) Lastly, much later, come products of an already mature civilization,
artificial motors, explosives,--powder and all its derivatives and
substitutes--steam, which has made such great progress.

If the reader please to represent to himself well the immense number of
facts that we have just indicated in a few lines; if he please to note
that every invention, great or small, before becoming a fixed and
realized thing, was at first an imagination, a mere contrivance of the
brain, an assembly of new combinations or new relations, he will be
forced to admit that nowhere--not excepting even esthetic
production--has man imagined to such a great extent.

One of the reasons--though not the only one--that supports the contrary
opinion is, that by the very law of their growing complexity, inventions
are grafted one on another. In all the useful arts improvements have
been so slow, and so gradually wrought, that each one of them passed
unperceived, without leaving its author the credit for its discovery.
The immense majority of inventions are anonymous--some great names alone
survive. But, whether individual or collective, imagination remains
imagination. In order that the plow, at first a simple piece of wood
hardened by the fire and pushed along with the human hand, should become
what it is to-day, through a long series of modifications described in
the special works, who knows how many imaginations have labored! In the
same way, the uncertain flame of a resinous branch guiding vaguely in
the night leads us, through a long series of inventions, to gas and
electric lighting. All objects, even the most ordinary and most common
that now serve us in our everyday-life, are _condensed imagination_.

(III) More than any other form, mechanical imagination depends strictly
on physical conditions. It cannot rest content with combining images, it
postulates material factors that impose themselves unyieldingly.
Compared to it, the scientific imagination has much more freedom in the
building of its hypotheses. In general, every great invention has been
preceded by a period of abortive attempts. History shows that the
so-called "initial moment" of a mechanical discovery, followed by its
improvements, is the moment ending a series of unsuccessful trials: we
thus skip a phase of pure imagination, of imaginative construction that
has not been able to enter into the mold of an appropriate determinism.
There must have existed innumerable inventions that we might term
mechanical romances, which, however, we cannot refer to because they
have left us no trace, not being born viable. Others are known as
curiosities because they have blazed the path. We know that Otto de
Guericke made four fruitless attempts before discovering his air-pump.
The brothers Montgolfier were possessed with the desire to make
"imitation clouds," like those they saw moving over the Alps. "In order
to imitate nature," they at first enclosed water-vapor in a light, stout
case, which fell on cooling. Then they tried hydrogen; then the
production of a gas with electrical properties; and so on. Thus, after a
succession of hypotheses and failures, they finally succeeded. From the
end of the sixteenth century there was offered the possibility of
communicating at a distance by means of electricity. "In a work
published in 1624 the Jesuit, Father Leurechon, described an imaginary
apparatus (by means of which, he said, people could converse at a
distance) for the aid of lovers who, by the connection of their
movements, would cause a needle to move about a dial on which would be
written the letters of the alphabet; and the drawing accompanying the
text is almost a picture of Breguet's telegraph." But the author
considered it impossible "in the absence of lovers having such

Mechanical inventions that fail correspond to erroneous or unverified
scientific hypotheses. They do not emerge from the stage of pure
imagination, but they are instructive to the psychologist because they
give in bare form the initial work of the constructive imagination in
the technical field.

There still remain the requirements of reasoning, of calculation, of
adaptation to the properties of matter. But, we repeat, this determinism
has several possible forms--one can reach the same goal through
different means. Besides, these determining conditions are not lacking
in any type of imagination; there is only a difference as between lesser
and greater. Every imaginative construction from the moment that it is
little more than a group of fancies, a spectral image haunting a
dreamer's brain, must take on a body, submit to external conditions on
which it depends, and which materialize it somewhat. In this respect,
architecture is an excellent example. It is classed among the fine arts;
but it is subject to so many limitations that its process of invention
strongly resembles technical and mechanical creations. Thus it has been
possible to say that "Architecture is the least personal of all the
arts." "Before being an art it is an industry in the sense that it has
nearly always a useful end that is imposed on it and rules its
manifestations. Whatever it builds--a temple, a theater, a palace--it
must before all else subordinate its work to the end assigned to it in
advance. This is not all:--it must take account of materials, climate,
soil, location, habits--of all things that may require much skill, tact,
calculation, which, however, do not interest art as such, and do not
permit architecture to manifest its purely esthetic qualities."[129]

Thus, at bottom, there is an identity of nature between the constructive
imagination of the mechanic and that of the artist: the difference is
only in the end, the means, and the conditions. The formula, _Ars homo
additus naturae_, has been too often restricted to esthetics--it should
comprehend everything artificial. Esthetes, doubtless, hold that their
imagination has for them a loftier quality--a disputed question that
psychology need not discuss; for it, the essential mechanism is the same
in the two cases: a great mechanic is a poet in his own way, because he
makes instruments imitating life. "Those constructions that at other
times are the marvel of the ignorant crowd deserve the admiration of the
reflecting:--Something of the power that has organized matter seems to
have passed into combinations in which nature is imitated or surpassed.
Our machines, so varied in form and in function, are the representatives
of a new kingdom intermediate between senseless and animate forms,
having the passivity of the former and the activity of the latter, and
exploiting everything for our sake. They are counterfeits of animate
beings, capable of giving inert substances a regular functioning. Their
skeleton of iron, organs of steel, muscles of leather, soul of fire,
panting or smoking breath, rhythm of movement--sometimes even the shrill
or plaintive cries expressing effort or simulating pain:--all that
contributes to give them a fantastic likeness to life--a specter and
dream of inorganic life."[130]


[119] See above, Part One, chapter II.

[120] For a complete and recent study of the question, see A.
Lehmann, _Aberglaube und Zauberei von den ältesten Zeiten bis in die
Gegenwart_, 1898.

[121] Lang, _op. cit._, I, 96. There will be found many other facts
of this kind.

[122] If this book were not merely an essay, we should have had to
study language as an instrument of the practical life in its
relations to the creative imagination, especially the function of
analogy, in the extension and transformation of the meanings of
words. Works on linguistics are full of evidence on this point. One
could do better still by attending exclusively to the vernacular, to
slang, which shows us creative force in action. "Slang," says one
philologist, "has the property of figuring, expressing, and
picturing language.... With it, however low its origin, one could
reconstruct a people or a society." Its principal, not only, means,
are metaphor and allegory. It lends itself equally to methods that
degrade or ennoble existing words, but with a very marked preference
for the worse or degrading meanings.

[123] Ample information on this point will be found in the work of
Espinas, _Les Origines de la Technologie_.

[124] The same correspondent, without my having asked him in regard
to this, gives me the following details: "When about seven years old
I saw a locomotive, its fire and smoke. My father's stove also made
fire and smoke, but lacked wheels. If, then, I told my father, we
put wheels under the stove, it would move like a locomotive. Later,
when about thirteen, the sight of a steam threshing-machine
suggested to me the idea of making a horseless wagon. I began a
childish construction of one, which my father made me give up," etc.
The tendency toward mechanical invention shows itself very early in
some children--we gave examples of it before. Our inventor adds: "My
imagination was strongest at about the age of 25 to 35 (I am now 45
years old). After that time it seems to me that the remainder of
life is good only for producing less important conceptions, forming
a natural consequence of the principal conceptions born of the
period of youth."

[125] See above, Part Two, chapter V.

[126] L. Bourdeau, _Les Forces de l'Industrie_, Paris, 1884. This
very substantial work, abounding in facts, conceived after a
systematic plan, has aided us much in this study.

[127] _Op. cit._, pp. 45-46.

[128] Quoted by L. Bourdeau (_op. cit._, p. 354), who also mentions
many other attempts: an anonymous Scot in 1753, Lesage of Geneva,
1780, Lhomond (France, 1787), Battencourt (Spain, 1787), Reiser, a
German (1794), Salva (Madrid, 1796). The insufficient study of
dynamic electricity did not permit them to succeed.

[129] E. Veron, _L'Esthétique_, p. 315.

[130] L. Bourdeau, _op. cit._, p. 233.



Taking the word "commercial" in its broadest signification, I understand
by this expression all those forms of the constructive imagination that
have for their chief aim the production and distribution of wealth, all
inventions making for individual or collective enrichment. Even less
studied than the form preceding, this imaginative manifestation reveals
as much ingenuity as any other. The human mind is largely busied in that
way. There are inventors of all kinds--the great among these equal those
whom general opinion ranks as highest. Here, as elsewhere, the great
body invent nothing, live according to tradition, in routine and

Invention in the commercial or financial field is subject to various
conditions with which we are not concerned:

(1) External conditions:--Geographical, political, economic, social,
etc., varying according to time, place, and people. Such is its external
determinism--human and social here in place of cosmic, physical, as in
mechanical invention.

(2) Internal, psychological conditions, most of which are foreign to the
primary and essential inventive act:--on one hand, foresight,
calculation, strength of reasoning;--in a word, capacity for reflection;
on the other hand, assurance, recklessness, soaring into the unknown--in
a word, strong capacity for action. Whence arise, if we leave out the
mixed forms, two principal types--the calculating, the venturesome. In
the former the rational element is first. They are cautious,
calculating, selfish exploiters, with no great moral or social
preoccupations. In the latter, the active and emotional element
predominates. They have a broader sweep. Of this sort were the
merchant-sailors of Tyre, Carthage, and Greece; the merchant-travelers
of the Middle Ages, the mercantile and gain-hungry explorers of the
fifteenth, sixteenth, and seventeenth centuries; later, in a changed
form, the organizers of great companies, the inventors of monopolies,
American "trusts," etc. These are the great imaginative minds.

Eliminating, then, from our subject, what is not the purely imaginative
element in order to study it alone, I see only two points for us to
treat, if we would avoid repetition--at the initial moment of invention,
the intuitive act that is its germ; during the period of development and
organization, the necessary and exclusive rôle of schematic images.


By "intuition" we generally understand a practical, immediate judgment
that goes straight to the goal. Tact, wisdom, scent, divination, are
synonymous or equivalent expressions. First let us note that intuition
does not belong exclusively to this part of our subject, for it is found
_in parvo_ throughout; but in commercial invention it is preponderating
on account of the necessity of perceiving quickly and surely, and of
grasping chances. "Genius for business," someone has said, "consists in
making exact hypotheses regarding the fluctuations of values." To
characterize the mental state is easy, if it is a matter merely of
giving examples; very difficult, if one attempts to discover its

The physician who in a trice diagnoses a disease, who, on a higher
level, groups symptoms in order to deduce a new disease from them, like
Duchenne de Boulogne; the politician who knows human nature, the
merchant who scents a good venture, etc., furnish examples of intuition.
It does not depend on the degree of culture;--not to mention women,
whose insight into practical matters is well known, there are ignorant
people--peasants, even savages--who, in their limited sphere, are the
equals of fine diplomats.

But all these facts teach us nothing concerning its psychological
nature. Intuition presupposes acquired experience of a special nature
that gives the judgment its validity and turns it in a particular
direction. Nevertheless, this accumulated knowledge of itself gives no
evidence as to the future. Now, every intuition is an anticipation of
the future, resulting from only two processes:--inductive or deductive
reasoning, e.g., the chemist foreseeing a reaction; imagination, i.e.,
a representative construction. Which is the chief process here?
Evidently the former, because it is not a matter of fancied hypothesis,
but of adaptation of former experience to a new case. Intuition
resembles logical operations much more than it does imaginative
combinations. We may liken it to unconscious reasoning, if we are not
afraid of the seeming contradiction of this expression which supposes a
logical operation without consciousness of the middle term. Although
questionable, it is perhaps to be preferred to other proposed
explanations--such as automatism, habit, "instinct," "nervous
connections." Carpenter, who as promoter of "unconscious cerebration,"
deserves to be consulted, likens this state to reflection. In ending, he
reprints a letter that John Stuart Mill wrote to him on the subject, in
which he says in substance that this capacity is found in persons who
have experience and lean toward practical things, but attach little
importance to theory.[131]

Every intuition, then, becomes concrete as a judgment, equivalent to a
conclusion. But what seems obscure and even mysterious in it is the fact
that, from among many possible solutions, it finds at the first shot the
proper one. In my opinion this difficulty arises largely from a partial
comprehension of the problem. By "intuition" people mean only cases in
which the divination is correct; they forget the other, far more
numerous, cases that are failures. The act by which one reaches a
conclusion is a special case of it. What constitutes the originality of
the operation is not its accuracy, but its _rapidity_--the latter is the
essential character, the former accessory.

Further, it must be acknowledged that the gift of seeing correctly is an
inborn quality, vouchsafed to one, denied to another:--people are born
with it, just as they are born right-or left-handed: experience does not
give it--only permits it to be put to use. As for knowing why the
intuitive act now succeeds and at another time fails, that is a question
that comes down to the natural distinction between accurate and
erroneous minds, which we do not need to examine here.

Without dwelling longer on this initial stage, let us return to the
commercial imagination, and follow it in its development.


The human race passed through a pre-commercial age. The Australians,
Fuegians, and their class seem to have had no idea whatever of exchange.
This primitive period, which was long, corresponds to the age of the
horde or large clan. Commercial invention, arising like the other forms
from needs,--simple and indispensable at first, artificial and
superfluous later,--could not arise in that dim period when the groups
had almost their sole relations with one another as war. Nothing called
it to arise. But at a higher stage the rudimentary form of commerce,
exchange in kind or truck, appeared early and almost everywhere. Then
this long, cumbersome, inconvenient method gave place to a more
ingenious invention--the employment of "standard values," beings or
material objects serving as a common measure for all the rest:--their
choice varied with the time, place, and people--e.g., certain shells,
salt, cocoa-seeds, cloth, straw-matting, cattle, slaves, etc.; but this
innovation held all the remainder in the germ, for it was the first
attempt at substitution. But during the earliest period of commercial
evolution the chief effort at invention consisted of finding
increasingly more simple methods in the mechanism of exchange. Thus,
there succeeded to these disparate values, the precious metals, in the
form of powder and ingots, subject to theft and the inconveniences of
weighing. Then, money of fixed denomination, struck under the authority
of a chief or of a social group. Finally, gold and silver are replaced
by the letter of credit, the bank check, and the numerous forms of
fiduciary money.[132]

Every one of these forward steps is due to inventors. I say inventors,
in the plural, because it is proven that every change in the means of
exchange has been imagined several times, in several ages--though in the
same way--on the surface of our earth.

Summing up--the inventive labor of this period is reduced to creating
increasingly more simple and more rapid methods of _substitution_ in the
commercial mechanism.

The appearance of commerce on a large scale has depended on the state of
agriculture, industry, ways of communication, social and economic
conditions and political extension. It came into being toward the end of
the Roman Republic. After the interruption of the Middle Ages the
activity is taken up again by the Italian cities, the Hanseatic League,
etc.; in the fifteenth century with the great maritime discoveries; in
the sixteenth century by the _Conquistadores_, hungering for adventure
and wealth; later on, by the mixed expeditions, whose expenses are
defrayed by merchants in common, and which are often accompanied by
armed bands that fight for them; lastly comes the incorporation of great
companies that have been wittily dubbed "_Conquistadores_ of the

We now come to the moment when commercial invention attains its complex
form and must move great masses. Taken as a whole, its psychological
mechanism is the same as that of any other creative work. In the first
instance, the idea arises, from inspiration, from reflection, or by
chance. Then comes a period of fermenting during which the inventor
sketches his construction in images, represents to himself the material
to be worked upon, the grouping of stockholders, the making up of a
capital, the mechanism of buying and selling, etc. All this differs from
the genesis of an esthetic or mechanical work only in the end, or in the
nature of the images. In the second phase it is necessary to proceed to
execution--a castle in the air must be made a solid structure. Then
appear a thousand obstructions in the details that must be overcome. As
everywhere else, minor inventions become grafted on the principal
invention; the author lets us see the poverty or richness in resource of
his mind. Finally, the work is triumphant, fails, or is only

Did it keep only to these general traits, commercial imagination would
be merely the reiteration, with slight changes, of forms already
studied; but it has characteristics all its own that must be

(1) It is a combining or tactical imagination. Heretofore, we have met
nothing like it. This special mark is derived from the very nature of
its determinism, which is very different from that limiting the
scientific or mechanical imagination. Every commercial project, in order
to emerge from the internal, purely imaginative phase, and become a
reality, requires "coming to a head," very exact calculation of
frequently numerous, divergent, even contrary elements. The American
dealer speculating in grain is under the absolute necessity of being
quickly and surely informed regarding the agricultural situation in all
countries of the world that are rich in grain, that export or import; in
regard to the probable chances of rain or drouth; the tariff duties of
the various countries, etc. Lacking that, he buys and sells haphazard.
Moreover, as he deals in enormous quantities, the least error means
great losses, the smallest profit on a unit is of account, and is
multiplied and increased into a noticeable gain.

Besides that initial intuition that shows opportune business and
moments, commercial imagination presupposes a well-studied, detailed
campaign for attack and defense, a rapid and reliable glance at every
moment of execution in order to incessantly modify this plan--it is a
kind of war. All this totality of special conditions results from a
general condition,--namely, competition, strife. We shall come back to
this point at the end of the chapter.

Let us follow to the end the working of this creative imagination. Like
the other forms, this kind of invention arises from a need, a
desire--that of the spreading of "self-feeling," of the expansion of the
individual under the form of enrichment. But this tendency, and with it
the resulting imaginative creation, can undergo changes.

It is a well-known law of the emotional life that what is at first
sought as a means may become an end and be desired for itself. A very
sensual passion may at length undergo a sort of idealization; people
study a science at first because it is useful, and later because of its
fascination; and we may desire money in order to spend it, and later in
order to hoard it. Here it is the same: the financial inventor is often
possessed with a kind of intoxication--he no longer labors for lucre,
but for art; he becomes, in his own way, an author of romance. His
imagination, set at the beginning toward gain, now seeks only its
complete expansion, the assertion and eruption of its creative power,
the pleasure of inventing for invention's sake,[133] daring the
extraordinary, the unheard-of--it is the victory of pure construction.
The natural equilibrium between the three necessary elements of
creation--mobility, combination of images, calculation--is destroyed.
The rational element gives way, is obliterated, and the speculator is
launched into adventure with the possibility of a dazzling success or
astounding catastrophe. But let us note well that the primary and sole
cause of this change is in the affective and motor element, in an
hypertrophy of the lust for power, in an unmeasured and morbid want of
expansion of self. Here, as everywhere, the source of invention is the
emotional nature of the inventor.

(2) A second special character of commercial imagination is the
exclusive employment of schematic representations. Although this process
is also met with in the sciences and especially in social inventions,
the imaginative type that we are now considering has the privilege of
using them without exception. This, then, is the proper moment for a

By "schematic images" I mean those that are, by their very nature,
intermediate between the concrete image and the pure concept, but
approach more nearly the concept. We have already pointed out very
different kinds of representations--concrete images, material pertaining
to plastic and mechanical imagination; the emotional abstractions of the
diffluent imagination; affective images, the type of which is found in
musicians; symbolic images, familiar in mystics. It may seem improper to
add another class to this list, but it is not a meaningless subtlety.
Indeed, there are no images in general that, according to the ordinary
conception, would be copies of reality. Even their separation into
visual, auditory, motor, etc., is not sufficient, because it
distinguishes them only with regard to their _origin_. There are other
differences. We have seen that the image, like everything living,
undergoes corrosions, damages, twisting, and transformation: whence it
comes about that this remainder of former impressions varies according
to its composition, i.e., in simplicity, complexity, grouping of its
constitutive elements, etc., and takes on many aspects. On the other
hand, as the difference between the chief types of creative imagination
depends in part on the materials employed--on the nature of the images
that serve in mental building--a precise determination of the nature of
the images belonging to each type is not an idle operation.

In order to clearly explain what we mean by schematic images, let us
represent by a line, _PC_, the scale of images according to the degree
of complexity, from the percept, _P_, to the concept, _C_.


As far as I am aware, this determination of all the degrees has never
been made. The work would be delicate; I do not regard it as impossible.
I have no intention to undertake it, even as I do not pretend that I
have given above the complete list of the various forms of images.

If, then, we consider the foregoing figure merely as a means of
representing the gradation to the eye, the image in moving, by
hypothesis, from the moment of perception, _P_, is less and less in
contact with reality, becomes simplified, impoverished, and loses some
of its constitutive elements. At _X_ it crosses the middle threshold to
approach nearer and nearer to the concept. At _G_ let us locate generic
images, primitive forms of generalization, whose nature and process of
becoming are well-known;[134] we should place farther along, at _S_,
schematic images, which require a higher function of mind. Indeed, the
generic image results from a spontaneous fusion of like or very
analogous images--such as the vague representation of the oak, the
horse, the negro, etc.; it belongs to only one class of objects. The
schematic image results from a voluntary act; it is not limited to exact
resemblances--it rises into abstraction; so it is scarcely accompanied
by a fleeting representation of concrete objects--it is almost reduced
to the word. At a higher level, it is freed from all sensuous elements
or pictures, and is reduced, in the present instance, to the mere notion
of value--it is not different from a pure concept. While the artist and
the mechanic build with concrete images, the commercial imagination can
act directly neither on things nor on their immediate representations,
because from the time that it goes beyond the primitive age it requires
a substitution of increasing generality; materials become values that
are in turn reducible to symbols. Consequently, it proceeds as in the
stating and solving of abstract problems in which, after having
substituted for things and their relations figures and letters,
calculation works with signs, and indirectly with things.

Aside from the first moment of invention, the finding of the idea--an
invariable psychological state--it must be recognized that in its
development and detailed construction the commercial imagination is made
up chiefly of calculations and combinations that hardly permit concrete
images. If we admit, then,--and this is unquestionable--that these are
the materials _par excellence_ of the creative imagination, we shall be
disposed to hold that the imaginative type we are now studying is a kind
of involution, a case of impoverishment--an unacceptable thesis as
regards the invention itself, but strictly acceptable as regards the
conditions that necessity imposes upon it.

In closing, let us note that financial imagination does not always have
as its goal the enriching of an individual or of a closely limited group
of associates: it can aim higher, act on greater masses, address itself
strenuously to a problem as complex as the reformation of the finances
of a powerful state. All the civilized nations count in their history
men who imagined a financial system and succeeded, with various
fortunes, in making it prevail. The word "system," consecrated by usage,
makes unnecessary any comment, and relates this form of imagination to
that of scientists and philosophers. Every system rests on a
master-conception, on an ideal, a center about which there is assembled
the mental construction made up of imagination and calculation which, if
circumstances permit, must take shape, must show that it can live.

Let us call to mind the author of the first, or at least, of the most
notorious of these "systems." Law claimed that he was applying "the
methods of philosophy, the principles of Descartes, to social economy,
abandoned hitherto to chance and empiricism." His ideal was the
institution of _credit_ by the state. Commerce, said he, was during its
first stage the exchange of merchandise in kind; in a second stage,
exchange by means of another, more manageable, commodity or universal
value, security equivalent to the object it represented; it must enter
a third stage when exchange will be made by a purely conventional sign
having no value of its own. Paper represents money, just as the latter
represents goods, "with the difference that the paper is not security,
but a simple promise, constituting credit." The state must do
systematically what individuals have done instinctively; but it must
also do what individuals cannot do--create currency by printing on the
paper of exchange the seal of public authority. We know the history of
the downfall of this system, the eulogies and criticisms it has
received:--but because of the originality and boldness of his views, the
inexhaustible fecundity of his lesser inventions, Law holds an
undisputed place among the great imaginative minds.


We said above that commerce, in its higher manifestations, is a kind of
war.[135] Here, then, would be the place to study the military
imagination. The subject cannot be treated save by a man of the
profession, so I shall limit myself to a few brief remarks based on
personal information, or gleaned from authorities.

Between the various types of imagination hitherto studied we have shown
great differences as regards their external conditions. While the
so-called forms of pure imagination, whence esthetic, mythic, religious,
mystic creations arise, can realize themselves by submitting to material
conditions that are simple and not very exacting, the others can become
embodied only when they satisfy an _ensemble_ of numerous, inevitable,
rigorously determined conditions; the goal is fixed, the materials are
rigid, there is little choice of the appropriate means. If there be
added to the inflexible laws of nature unforeseen human passions and
determinations, as in political or social invention, or the offensive
combination of opponents, as in commerce and war; then the imaginative
construction is confronted with problems of constantly growing
complexity. The most ingenious inventor cannot invent an object as a
whole, letting his work develop through an immanent logic:--the early
plan must be continually modified and readapted; and the difficulty
arises not merely from the multiple elements of the problem to be
solved, but from ceaseless changes in their positions. So one can
advance only step by step, and go forward by calculations and strict
examination of possibilities. Hence it results that underneath this
thick covering of material and intellectual conditions (calculation,
reasoning), spontaneity (the aptness for finding new combinations, "that
art of inventing without which we hardly advance"[136]) reveals itself
to few clear-sighted persons; but, in spite of everything, this creative
power is everywhere, flowing like subterranean streams, a vivifying

These general remarks, although not applicable exclusively to the
military imagination, find their justification in it, because of its
extreme complexity. Let us rapidly enumerate, proceeding from without
inwards, the enormous mass of representations that it has to move and
combine in order to make its construction adequate to reality, able at a
precise moment to cease being a dream:--(1) Arms, engines, instruments
of destruction and supply, varying according to time, place, richness of
the country, etc. (2) The equally variable human element--mercenaries, a
national army; strong, tried troops or weak and new. (3) The general
principles of war, acquired by the study of the masters. (4) More
personal is the power of reflection, the habitual solving of tactical
and strategic problems. "Battles," said Napoleon, "are thought out at
length, and in order to be successful it is necessary that we think
several times in regard to what may happen." All the foregoing should be
headed "science." Advancing more and more within the secret psychology
of the individual, we come to art, the characteristic work of pure
imagination. (5) Let us note the exact, rapid intuition at the
commencement of the opportune moments. (6) Lastly, the creative element,
the conception, a natural gift bearing the hall-mark of each inventor.
Thus "the Napoleonic esthetics was always derived from a single concept,
based on a principle that may be summed up thus:--Strict economy
wherever it can be done; expenditure without limit on the decisive
point. This principle inspires the strategy of the master; it directs
everything, especially his battle-tactics, in which it is synthetized
and summed up."[137]

Such, in analytical terms, appears the hidden spring that makes
everything move, and it is to be attributed neither to experience nor to
reasoning, nor to wise combinations, for it arises from the innermost
depths of the inventor. "The principle exists in him in a latent state,
i.e., in the depths of the unconscious, and unconsciously it is that he
applies it, when the shock of the circumstances, of goal and means,
causes to flash from his brain the spark stimulating the artistic
solution _par excellence_, one that reaches the limits of human


[131] Carpenter, _Mental Physiology_, chapter XI (end).

[132] Historically, the evolution has not always proceeded strictly
in this order, which, however, seems the most logical one.
Negotiable drafts were known to the Assyrians and Carthaginians. For
thousands of years Egypt used ingots, not real money, but it was
acquainted with fiduciary money. In the new world, the Peruvians
made use of the scale, the Aztecs were ignorant of its use, etc. For
details, see Letourneau, _L'Évolution du commerce dans les diverses
races humaines_, Paris, 1897, especially pp. 264, 330, 354, 384,

[133] This condition has been well-described by various novelists,
among them Zola, in _Money_.

[134] For further details on this point, we refer the reader to our
_Evolution of General Ideas_ (chapter I).

[135] A general, a former professor in the War College, told me that
when he heard a great merchant tell of the quick and sure service of
his commercial information, the conception of the whole, and the
care in all the details of his operations, he could not keep from
exclaiming, "Why, that is war!"

[136] Leibniz.

[137] General Bonnal, _Les Maîtres de la Guerre_, 1899, p. 137. "In
him (Napoleon)," says the writer, "there was something of the poet,
and one could explain all his acts by means of this singular
complex, a medley of imagination, passion, and calculation. The
dreams of an Ossian with the positive cast of mind of a
mathematician and the passions of a Corsican--such were the
heterogeneous elements that clashed in that powerful organization"
(p. 151).

[138] _Op. cit._, p. 6.



When the human mind creates, it can use only two classes of ideas as
materials to embody its idea, viz.:

(1) Natural phenomena, the forces of the organic and inorganic worlds.
In its scientific form, seeking to explain, to know, it ends in the
hypothesis, a disinterested creation. In its industrial aspect, aiming
towards application and utilization, it ends in practical, interested

(2) Human, i.e., psychic elements--instincts, passions, feelings,
ideas, and actions. Esthetic creation is the disinterested form, social
invention is the utilitarian form.

Consequently, we may say that invention in science resembles invention
in the fine arts, both being speculative; and that mechanical and
industrial invention approaches social invention through a common
tendency toward the practical. I shall not insist on this distinction,
which, to be definite, rests only on partial characters; I merely wish
to mention that invention, whose rôle in social, political and moral
evolution is large, must, in order to be a success, adopt certain
processes while neglecting others. This the Utopians do not do.

The development of human societies depends on a multitude of factors,
such as race, geographic and economic conditions, war, etc., which we
need neither enumerate nor study. One only belongs to our topic--the
successive appearance of idealistic conceptions that, like all other
creations of mind, tend to realize themselves, the moral ideal
consisting of new combinations arising from the predominance of one
feeling, or from an unconscious elaboration (inspiration), or from

At the beginning of civilizations we meet semi-historic, semi-legendary
persons--Manu, Zoroaster, Moses, Confucius, etc., who were inventors or
reformers in the social and moral spheres. That a part of the inventions
attributed to them must be credited to predecessors or successors is
probable; but the invention, no matter who is its author, remains none
the less invention. We have said elsewhere, and may repeat, that the
expression _inventor_ in morals may seem strange to some, because we are
imbued with the notion of a knowledge of good and evil that is innate,
universal, bestowed on all men and in all times. If we admit, on the
other hand, as observation compels us to do, not a ready-made morality,
but a morality in the making, it must be, indeed, the _creation_ of an
individual or of a group. Everybody recognizes inventors in geometry,
in music, in the plastic and mechanic arts; but there have also been men
who, in their moral dispositions, were very superior to their
contemporaries, and were promoters, initiators.[140] For reasons of
which we are ignorant, analogous to those that produce a great poet or a
great painter, there arise moral geniuses who feel strongly what others
do not feel at all, just as does a great poet, in comparison with the
crowd. But it is not enough that they feel: they must create, they must
realize their ideal in a belief and in rules of conduct accepted by
other men. All the founders of great religions were inventors of this
kind. Whether the invention comes from themselves alone, or from a
collectivity of which they are the sum and incarnation, matters little.
In them moral invention has found its complete form; like all invention,
it is organic. The legend relates that Buddha, possessed with the desire
of finding the perfect road of salvation for himself and all other men,
gives himself up, at first, to an extravagant asceticism. He perceives
the uselessness of this and renounces it. For seven years he meditates,
then he beholds the light. He comes into possession of knowledge of the
means that give freedom from _Karma_ (the chain of causes and effects),
and from the necessity of being born again. Soon he renounces the life
of contemplation, and during fifty years of ceaseless wanderings
preaches, makes converts, organizes his followers. Whether true or
false historically, this tale is psychologically exact. A fixed and
besetting idea, trial followed by failure, the decisive moment of
_Eureka!_ then the inner revelation manifests itself outwardly, and
through the labors of the master and his disciples becomes complete,
imposes itself on millions of men. In what respect does this mode of
creation differ from others, at least in the practical order?

Thus, from the viewpoint of our present study, we may divide ethics into
living and dead. Living ethics arise from needs and desires, stimulate
an imaginative construction that becomes fixed in actions, habits and
laws; they offer to men a concrete, positive ideal which, under various
and often contrary aspects, is always happiness. The lifeless ethics,
from which invention has withdrawn, arise from reflection upon, and the
rational codification of, living ethics. Stored away in the writings of
philosophers, they remain theoretical, speculative, without appreciable
influence on the masses, mere material for dissertation and commentary.

In proportion as we recede from distant origins the light grows, and
invention in the social and moral order becomes manifest as the work of
two principal categories of minds--the fantastic, the positive. The
former, purely imaginative beings, visionaries, utopians, are closely
related to poets and artists. The latter, practical creators or
reformers, capable of organizing, belong to the family of inventors in
the industrial-commercial-mechanical order.


The chimerical form of imagination, applied to the social sciences, is
the one that, taking account neither of the external determinism nor of
practical requirements, spreads out freely. Such are the creators of
ideal republics, seeking for a lost or to-be-discovered-in-the-future
golden age, constructing, as their fancy pleases, human societies in
their large outlines and in their details. They are social novelists,
who bear the same relation to sociologists that poets do to critics.
Their dreams, subjected merely to the conditions of an inner logic, have
lived only within themselves, an ideal life, without ever passing
through the test of application. It is the creative imagination in its
unconscious form, restrained to its first phase.

Nothing is better known than their names and their works: The _Republic_
of Plato, Thomas More's _Utopia_, Campanella's _City of the Sun_,
Harrington's _Oceana_, Fenelon's _Salente_, etc.[141] However idealistic
they may be, one could easily show that all the materials of their ideal
are taken from the surrounding reality, they bear the stamp of the
_milieu_, be it Greek, English, Christian, etc., in which they lived,
and it should not be forgotten that in the Utopians everything is not
chimerical--some have been revealers, others have acted as stimuli or
ferments. True to its mission, which is to make innovations, the
constructive imagination is a spur that arouses; it hinders social
routine and prevents stagnation.

Among the creators of ideal societies there is one, almost contemporary,
who would deserve a study of individual psychology--Ch. Fourier. If it
is a question merely of fertility in pure construction, I doubt whether
we could find one superior to him--he is equal to the highest, with the
special characteristic of being at the same time exuberant to delirium
and exact in details to the least minutiæ. He is such a fine type of the
imaginative intellect that he deserves that we stop a moment.

His cosmogony seems the work of an omnipotent demiurge fashioning the
universe at will. His conception of the future world with its
"counter-cast" creations, where the present ugliness and troubles of
animal reign become changed into their opposites, where there will be
"anti-lions," "anti-crocodiles," "anti-whales," etc., is one example of
hundreds showing his inexhaustible richness in fantastic visions: the
work of an imagination that is hot and overflowing, with no rational

On the other hand, his psychogony, based on the idea of metempsychosis
borrowed from the Orient, gives itself up to numerical vagaries.
Assuming for every soul a periodical rebirth, he assigns it first a
period of "ascending subversion," the first phase of which lasts five
thousand years, the second thirty-six thousand; then comes a period of
completion, 9,000 years; and then a period of "descending subversion,"
whose first stage is 27,000 years, and the second 4,000 years--a total
of 81,000 years. This form of imagination is already known to us.[142]

The principal part of his psychology, the theory of the emotions,
questionable in many respects, is relatively rational. But in the
construction of human society, the duality of his imagination--powerful
and minute--reappears. We know his methodical organization: the _group_,
composed of seven to nine persons; the _series_, comprising twenty-four
to thirty-two groups; a _phalanx_ that includes eighteen groups,
constituting the phalanstery; the small city, a general center of
phalanges; the provincial city, the imperial capital, the universal
metropolis. He has a passion for classification and ordering; "his
phalanstery works like a clock."

This rare imaginative type well deserved a few remarks, because of its
mixture of apparent exactness and a natural, unconscious utopianism and
extravagance. For, beneath all these pulsating inventions of precise,
petty details, the foundation is none the less a purely speculative
construction of the mind. Let us add an incredible abuse of analogy,
that chief intellectual instrument of invention, of which only the
reading of his books can give an idea.[143] Heinrich Heine said of
Michelet, "He has a Hindoo imagination." The term would apply still
better to Fourier, in whom coexist unchecked profusion of images and the
taste for numerical accumulations. People have tried to explain this
abundance of figures and calculation as a professional habit--he was for
a long time a bookkeeper or cashier, always an excellent accountant. But
this is taking the effect for cause. This dualism existed in the very
nature of his mind, and he took advantage of it in his calling. The
study of the numerical imagination[144] has shown how it is frequently
met with among orientals, whose imaginative development is unquestioned,
and we have seen why the idealistic imagination agrees so well with the
indefinite series of numbers and makes use of it as a vehicle.


With practical inventors and reformers the ideal falls--not that they
sacrifice it for their personal interests, but because they have a
comprehension of possibilities. The imaginative construction must be
corrected, narrowed, mutilated, if it is to enter into the narrow frame
of the conditions of existence, until it becomes adapted and determined.
This process has been described several times, and it is needless to
repeat it here in other terms. Nevertheless, the ideal--understanding by
this term the unifying principle that excites creative work and supports
it in its development--undergoes metamorphosis and must be not only
individual but collective; the creation does not realize itself save
through a "communion of minds," by a co-operation of feelings and of
wills; the work of one conscious individual must become the work of a
social consciousness.

That form of imagination, creating and organizing social groups,
manifests itself in various degrees according to the tendency and power
of creators.

There are the founders of small societies, religious in form--the
Essenes, the earliest Christian communities, the monastic orders of the
Orient and Occident, the great Catholic or Mohammedan congregations, the
semi-lay, semi-religious sects like the Moravian Brotherhood, the
Shakers, Mormons, etc. Less complete because it does not cover the
individual altogether in all the acts of life is the creation of secret
associations, professional unions, learned societies, etc. The founder
conceives an ideal of complete living or one limited to a given end, and
puts it into practice, having for material men grouped of their free
choice, or by coöptation.

There is invention operating on great masses--social or political
invention strictly so called--ordinarily not proposed but imposed,
which, however, despite its coercive power, is subject to requirements
even more numerous than mechanical, industrial, or commercial invention.
It has to struggle against natural forces, but most of all against human
forces--inherited habits, customs, traditions. It must make terms with
dominant passions and ideas, finding its justification, like all other
creation, only in success.

Without entering into the details of this inevitable determination,
which would require useless repetition, we may sum up the rôle of the
constructive imagination in social matters by saying that it has
undergone a regression--i.e., that its area of development has been
little by little narrowed; not that inventive genius, reduced to pure
construction in images, has suffered an eclipse, but on its part it has
had to make increasingly greater room for experiment, rational elements,
calculation, inductions and deductions that permit foresight--for
practical necessities.

If we omit the spontaneous, instinctive, semi-conscious invention of the
earliest ages, that was sufficient for primitive societies, and keep to
creations that were the result of reflection and of great pretension, we
can roughly distinguish three successive periods:

(1) A very long idealistic phase (Antiquity, Renaissance) when triumphed
the pure imagination, and the play of the free fancy that spends itself
in social novels. Between the creation of the mind and the life of
contemporary society there was no relation; they were worlds apart,
strangers to one another. The true Utopians scarcely troubled themselves
to make applications. Plato and More--would they have wished to realize
their dreams?

(2) An intermediate phase, when an attempt is made to pass from the
ideal to the practical, from pure speculation to social facts. Already,
in the eighteenth century, some philosophers (Locke, Rousseau) drew up
constitutions, at the request of interested persons. During this period,
when the work of the imagination, instead of merely becoming fixed in
books, tends to become objectified in acts, we find many failures and
some successes. Let us recall the fruitless attempts of the
"phalansteries" in France, in Algeria, Brazil, and in the United States.
Robert Owen was more fortunate;[145] in four years he reformed New
Larnak, after his ideal, and with varying fortune founded short-lived
colonies. Saint-Simonism has not entirely died out; the primitive
civilization after his ideal rapidly disappeared, but some of his
theories have filtered into or have become incorporated with other

(3) A phase in which imaginative creation becomes subordinated to
practical life: The conception of society ceases to be purely idealistic
or constructed _a priori_ by deduction from a single principle; it
recognizes the conditions of its environment, adapts itself to the
necessities of its development. It is the passage from the absolutely
autonomous state of the imagination to a period when it submits to the
laws of a rational imperative. In other words, the transition from the
esthetic to the scientific, and especially the practical, form.
Socialism is a well-known and excellent example of this. Compare its
former utopias, down to about the middle of the last century, with its
contemporary forms, and without difficulty we can appreciate the amount
of imaginative elements lost in favor of an at least equivalent quantity
of rational elements and positive calculations.


[139] This title, as will be seen later, corresponds only in part to
the contents of this chapter.

[140] For facts in support, see the _Psychology of the Emotions_,
Second Part, chapter VIII.

[141] Our author does not mention Bacon's _New Atlantis_, one of the
best specimens of its kind. "Wisest Verulam," active and
distinguished in so many fields, is not amenable to rules, and is
here found among "idealists," as elsewhere among the foremost
empiricists and iconoclasts. (Tr.)

[142] See above, Part III, chapter III.

[143] We recommend to the reader the "Epilogue sur l'Analogie," in
_Le Monde Industriel_, pp. 244 ff., where he will learn that the
"goldfinch depicts the child born of poor parents; the pheasant
represents the jealous husband; the cock is the symbol of the man of
the world; the cabbage is the emblem of mysterious love," etc. There
are several pages in this tone, with alleged reasons in support of
the statements.

[144] See above, chapter II.

[145] For an excellent account of the principles of these movements,
see Rae, _Contemporary Socialism_; for Owen's ideals, his
_Autobiography_; and for an account of some of the trials, Bushee's
"Communistic Societies in the United States," _Political Science
Quarterly_, vol. XX, pp. 625 ff. (Tr.)





Why is the human mind able to create? In a certain sense this question
may seem idle, childish, and even worse. We might just as well ask why
does man have eyes and not an electric apparatus like the torpedo? Why
does he perceive directly sounds but not the ultra-red and ultra-violet
rays? Why does he perceive changes of odors but not magnetic changes?
And so on _ad infinitum_. We will put the question in a very different
manner: Being given the physical and mental constitution of man such as
it is at present, how is the creative imagination a natural product of
this constitution?

Man is able to create for two principal reasons. The first, motor in
nature, is found in the action of his needs, appetites, tendencies,
desires. The second is the possibility of a spontaneous revival of
images that become grouped in new combination.

1. We have already shown in detail[146] that the hypothesis of a
"creative instinct," if the expression is used not as an abbreviated or
metaphorical formula but in the strict sense, is a pure chimera, an
empty entity. In studying the various types of imagination we have
always been careful to note that every mode of creation may be reduced,
as regards its beginnings, to a tendency, a want, a special, determinate
desire. Let us recall for the last time these initial conditions of all
invention--these desires, conscious or not, that excite it.

The wants, tendencies, desires--it matters not which term we adopt--the
whole of which constitutes the instinct of individual preservation, have
been the generators of all inventions dealing with food-getting,
housing, making of weapons, instruments, and machines.

The need for individual and social expansion or extension has given rise
to military, commercial, and industrial invention, and in its
disinterested form, esthetic creation.

As for the sexual instinct, its psychic fertility is in no way less than
the physical--it is an inexhaustible source of imagination in everyday
life as well as in art.

The wants of man in contact with his fellows have engendered, through
instinctive or reflective action, the numerous social and practical
creations regulating human groups, and they are rough or complex, stable
or unstable, just or unjust, kindly or harsh.

The need of knowing and of explaining, well or ill, has created myths,
religions, philosophical systems, scientific hypotheses.

Every want, tendency or desire may, then, become creative, by itself or
associated with others, and into these final elements it is that
analysis must resolve "creative spontaneity." This vague expression
corresponds to a _sum_, not to a special property.[147] Every invention,
then, has a _motor_ origin; _the ultimate basis of the constructive
imagination is motor_.

2. But needs and desires by themselves cannot create--they are only a
stimulus and a spring. Whence arises the need of a second condition--the
spontaneous revival of images.

In many animals that are endowed only with memory the return of images
is always provoked. Sensation from without or from within bring them
into consciousness under the form, pure and simple, of former
experience; whence we have reproduction, repetition without new
associations. People of slight imagination and used to routine approach
this mental condition. But, as a matter of fact, man from his second
year on, and some higher animals, go beyond this stage--they are capable
of spontaneous revival. By this term I mean that revival that comes
about abruptly, without _apparent_ antecedents. We know that these act
in a latent form, and consist of thinking by analogy, affective
dispositions, unconscious elaboration. This sudden appearance excites
other states which, grouped into new associations, contain the first
elements of the creative act.

Taken altogether, and however numerous its manifestations, the
constructive imagination seems to me reducible to three forms, which I
shall call _sketched_, _fixed_, _objectified_, according as it remains
an internal fancy, or takes on a material but contingent and unstable
form, or is subjected to the conditions of a rigorous internal or
external determinism.

(a) The _sketched_ form is primordial, original, the simplest of all; it
is a nascent moment or first attempt. It appears first of all in
dreaming--an embryonic, unstable and uncoördinated manifestation of the
creative imagination--a transition-stage between passive reproduction
and organized construction. A step higher is revery, whose flitting
images, associated by chance, without personal intervention, are
nevertheless vivid enough to exclude from consciousness every impression
of the external world--so much so that the day-dreamer re-enters it only
with a shock of surprise. More coherent are the imaginary constructions
known as "castles in Spain"--the works of a wish considered
unrealizable, fancies of love, ambition, power and wealth, the goal of
which seems to be forever beyond our reach. Lastly, still higher, come
all the plans for the future conceived vaguely and as barely
possible--foreseeing the end of a sickness, of a business enterprise, of
a political event, etc.

This vague and "outline" imagination, penetrating our entire life, has
its peculiar characters--the unifying principle is _nil_ or ephemeral,
which fact always reduces it to the dream as a type; it does not
externalize itself, does not change into acts, a consequence of its
basically chimerical nature or of weakness of will, which reduces it to
a strictly internal and individual existence. It is needless to say that
this kind of imagination is a permanent and definite form with the
dreamers living in a world of ceaselessly reappearing images, having no
power to organize them, to change them into a work of art, a theory, or
a useful invention.

The "sketched" form is or remains an elementary, primitive, automatic
form. Conformably to the general law ruling the development of
mind--passage from indefinite to definite, from the incoherent to the
coherent, from spontaneity to reflection, from the reflex to the
voluntary period--the imagination comes out of its swaddling-clothes,
is changed--through the intervention of a teleological act that assigns
it an end; through the union of rational elements that subdue it for an
adaptation. Then appear the other two forms.

(b) The _fixed_ form comprises mythic and esthetic creations,
philosophical and scientific hypotheses. While the "outline" imagination
remains an internal phenomenon, existing only in and for a single
individual, the fixed form is projected outwards, made something else.
The former has no reality other than the momentary belief accompanying
it; the latter exists by itself, for its creator and for others; the
work is accepted, rejected, examined, criticised. Fiction rests on the
same level as reality. Do not people discuss seriously the objective
value of certain myths, and of metaphysical theories? the action of a
novel or drama as though it were a matter of real events? the character
of the _dramatis personae_ as though they were living flesh and blood?

The fixed imagination moves in an elastic frame. The material elements
circumscribing it and composing it have a certain fluidity; they are
language, writing, musical sounds, colors, forms, lines. Furthermore, we
know that its creations, in spite of the spontaneous adherence of the
mind accepting them, are the work of a free will; they could have been
otherwise--they preserve an indelible imprint of contingency and

(c) This last mark is rubbed out without disappearing (for a thing
imagined is always a personal thing) in the objectified form that
comprises successful practical inventions--whether mechanical,
industrial, commercial, military, social, or political. These have no
longer an arbitrary, borrowed reality; they have their place in the
totality of physical and social phenomena. They resemble creations of
nature, subject like them to fixed conditions of existence and to a
limited determinism. We shall not dwell longer on this last character,
so often pointed out.

In order the better to comprehend the distinction between the three
forms of imagination let us borrow for a moment the terminology of
spiritualism or of the common dualism--merely as a means of explaining
the matter clearly. The "outline" imagination is a soul without a body,
a pure spirit, without determination in space. The "fixed" imagination
is a soul or spirit surrounded by an almost immaterial sheath, like
angels or demons, genii, shadows, the "double" of savages, the
_peresprit_ of spiritualists, etc. The _objectified_ imagination is soul
and body, a complete organization after the pattern of living people;
the ideal is incarnated, but it must undergo transformation, reductions
and adaptations, in order that it may become practical--just as the
soul, according to spiritualism, must bend to the necessities of the
body, to be at the same time the servant of, and served by, the bodily

According to general opinion the great imaginers are found only in the
first two classes, which is, in the strict sense of the word, true; in
the full sense of the word false. As long as it remains "outline," or
even "fixed," the constructive imagination can reign as supreme
mistress. Objectified, it still rules, but shares its power with
competitors; it avails nought without them, they can do nothing without
it. What deceives us is the fact that we see it no longer in the open.
Here the imaginative stroke resembles those powerful streams of water
that must be imprisoned in a complicated network of canals and
ramifications varying in shape and in diameter before bursting forth in
multiple jets and in liquid architecture.[148]



Let us try now, by way of conclusion, to present to the reader a picture
of the whole of the imaginative life in all its degrees.

If we consider the human mind principally under its intellectual
aspect--i.e., insofar as it knows and thinks, deducting its emotions
and voluntary activity--the observation of individuals distinguishes
some very clear varieties of mentality.

First, those of a "positive" or realistic turn of mind, living chiefly
on the external world, on what is perceived and what is immediately
deducible therefrom--alien or inimical to vain fancy; some of them flat,
limited, of the earth earthy; others, men of action, energetic but
limited by real things.

Second, abstract minds, "quintessence abstractors," with whom the
internal life is dominant in the form of combinations of concepts. They
have a schematic representation of the world, reduced to a hierarchy of
general ideas, noted by symbols. Such are the pure mathematicians, the
pure metaphysicians. If these two tendencies exist together, or, as
happens, are grafted one on the other, without anything to
counterbalance them, the abstract spirit attains its perfect form.

Midway between these two groups are the imaginers in whom the internal
life predominates in the form of combinations of images, which fact
distinguishes them clearly from the abstractors. The former alone
interest us, and we shall try to trace this imaginative type in its
development from the normal or average stage to the moment when
ever-growing exuberance leads us into pathology.

The explanation of the various phases of this development is reducible
to a well-known psychologic law--the natural antagonism between
sensation and image, between phenomena of peripheral origin and
phenomena of central origin; or, in a more general form, between the
outer and inner life. I shall not dwell long on this point, which Taine
has so admirably treated.[149] He has shown in detail how the image is
a spontaneously arising sensation, one that is, however, aborted by the
opposing shock of real sensation, which is its reducer, producing on it
an arresting action and maintaining it in the condition of an internal,
subjective fact. Thus, during the waking hours, the frequency and
intensity of impressions from without press the images back to the
second level; but during sleep, when the external world is as it were
suppressed, their hallucinatory tendency is no longer kept in check, and
the world of dreams is momentarily the reality.

The psychology of the imaginer reduces itself to a progressively
increasing interchange of rôles. Images become stronger and stronger
states; perceptions, more and more feeble. In this movement opposite to
nature I note four steps, each of which corresponds to particular
conditions: (1) The quantity of images; (2) quantity and intensity; (3)
quantity, intensity and duration; (4) complete systematization.

(1) In the first place the predominance of imagination is marked only by
the quantity of representations invading consciousness; they teem, break
apart, become associated, combine easily and in various ways. All the
imaginative persons who have given us their experiences either orally or
in writing agree in regard to the extreme ease of the formation of
associations, not in repeating past expedience, but in sketching little
romances.[150] From among many examples I choose one. One of my
correspondents writes that if at church, theatre, on a street, or in a
railway station, his attention is attracted to a person--man or
woman--he immediately makes up, from the appearance, carriage and
attractiveness his or her present or past, manner of life,
occupation--representing to himself the part of the city he or she must
dwell in, the apartments, furniture, etc.--a construction most often
erroneous; I have many proofs of it. Surely this disposition is normal;
it departs from the average only by an excess of imagination that is
replaced in others by an excessive tendency to observe, to analyze, or
to criticise, reason, find fault. In order to take the decisive step and
become abnormal one condition more is necessary--intensity of the

2. Next, the interchange of place, indicated above, occurs. Weak states
(images) become strong; strong states (perceptions) become weak. The
impressions from without are powerless to fulfill their regular function
of inhibition. We find the simplest example of this state in the
exceptional persistence of certain dreams. Ordinarily, our nocturnal
imaginings vanish as empty phantasmagorias at the inrush of the
perceptions and habits of daily life--they seem like faraway phantoms,
without objective value. But, in the struggle occurring, on waking,
between images and perceptions, the latter are not always victorious.
There are dreams--i.e., imaginary creations--that remain firm in face
of reality, and for some time go along parallel with it. Taine was
perhaps the first to see the importance of this fact. He reports that
his relative, Dr. Baillarger, having dreamt that one of his friends had
been appointed editor of a journal, announced the news seriously to
several persons, and doubt arose in his mind only toward the end of the
afternoon. Since then contemporary psychologists have gathered various
observations of this kind.[151] The emotional persistence of certain
dreams is known. So-and-so, one of our neighbors, plays in a dream an
odious rôle; we may have a feeling of repulsion or spite toward him
persisting throughout the day. But this triumph of the image, accidental
and ephemeral in normal man, is frequent and stable in the imaginers of
the second class. Many among them have asserted that this internal world
is the only reality. Gérard de Nerval "had very early the conviction
that the majority is mistaken, that the material universe in which it
believes, because its eyes see it and its hands touch it, is nothing but
phantoms and appearances. For him the invisible world, on the contrary,
was the only one not chimerical." Likewise, Edgar Allan Poe: "The real
things of the world would affect me like visions, and only so; while the
wild ideas of the land of dreams became in turn not only the feeding
ground of my daily existence but positively the sole and entire
existence itself." Others describe their life as "a permanent dream."
We could multiply examples. Aside from the poets and artists, the
mystics would furnish copious examples. Let us take an exaggerated
instance: This permanent dream is, indeed, only a part of their
existence; it is above all active through its intensity; but, while it
lasts, it absorbs them so completely that they enter the external world
only with a sudden, violent and painful shock.

(3) If the changing of images into strong states preponderating in
consciousness is no longer an episode but a lasting disposition, then
the imaginative life undergoes a partial systematization that approaches
insanity. Everyone may be "absorbed" for a moment; the above-mentioned
authors are so frequently. On a higher level this invading supremacy of
the internal life becomes a habit. This third degree is but the second
carried to excess.

Some cases of double personality (those of Azam, Reynolds) are known in
which the second state is at first embryonic and of short duration; then
its appearances are repeated, its sphere becomes extended. Little by
little it engrosses the greater part of life; it may even entirely
supplant the earlier self. The growing working of the imagination is
similar to this. Thanks to two causes acting in unison, temperament and
habit, the imaginative and internal life tends to become systematized
and to encroach more and more on the real, external life. In an account
by Féré[152] one may follow step by step this work of systematization
which we abridge here to its chief characteristics.

The subject, M......, a man thirty-seven years old, had from childhood a
decided taste for solitude. Seated in an out-of-the-way corner of the
house or out of doors, "he commenced from that time on to build castles
in Spain that little by little took on a considerable importance in his
life. His constructions were at first ephemeral, replaced every day by
new ones. They became progressively more consistent.... When he had well
entered into his imaginary rôle, he often succeeded in continuing his
musing in the presence of other people. At college, whole hours would be
spent in this way; often he would see and hear nothing." Married, the
head of a prosperous business house, he had some respite; then he
returned to his former constructions. "They commenced by being, as
before, not very durable or absorbing; but gradually they acquired more
intensity and duration, and lastly became fixed in a definite form."

"To sum up, here is what this ideal life, lasting almost from his fourth
year, meant: M...... had built at Chaville, on the outskirts of the
forest, an imaginary summer residence surrounded by a garden. By
successive additions the pavilion became a château; the garden, a park;
servants, horses, water-fixtures came to ornament the domain. The
furnishings of the inside had been modified at the same time. A wife had
come to give life to the picture; two children had been born. Nothing
was wanting to this household, only the being true.... One day he was
in his imaginary salon at Chaville, occupied in watching an upholsterer
who was changing the arrangement of the tapestry. He was so absorbed in
the matter that he did not notice a man coming toward him, and at the
question, 'M......, if you please--?' he answered, without thinking, 'He
is at Chaville.' This reply, given in public, aroused in him a real
terror. 'I believe that I was foolish,' he said. Coming to himself, he
declared that he was ready to do anything to get rid of his ideas."

Here the imaginative type is at its maximum, at the brink of insanity
without being over it. Associations and combinations of images form the
entire content of consciousness, which remains impervious to impressions
from without. Its world becomes _the_ world. The parasitic life
undermines and corrodes the other in order to become established in its
place--it grows, its parts adhere more closely, it forms a compact
mass--the imaginary systematization is complete.

(4) The fourth stage is an exaggeration of the foregoing. The
_completely_ systematized and permanent imaginative life excludes the
other. This is the extreme form, the beginning of insanity, which is
outside our subject, from which pathology has been excluded.

Imagination in the insane would deserve a special study, that would be
lengthy, because there is no form of imagination that insanity has not
adopted. In no period have insane creations been lacking in the
practical, religious, or mystic life, in poetry, the fine arts, and in
the sciences; in industrial, commercial, mechanical, military projects,
and in plans for social and political reform. We should, then, be
abundantly supplied with facts.[153]

It would be difficult, for, if in ordinary life we are often perplexed
to decide whether a man is sane or not, how much more then, when it is a
question of an inventor, of an act of the creative faculty, i.e., of a
venture into the unknown! How many innovators have been regarded as
insane, or as at least unbalanced, visionary! We cannot even invoke
success as a criterion. Many non-viable or abortive inventions have been
fathered by very sane minds, and people regarded as insane have
vindicated their imaginative constructions through success.

Let us leave these difficulties of a subject that is not our own, in
order to determine merely the psychological criterion belonging to the
fourth stage.

How may we rightly assert that a form of imaginative life is clearly
pathologic? In my opinion, the answer must be sought in the nature and
degree of belief accompanying the labor of creating. It is an axiom
unchallenged by anyone--whether idealist or realist of any shade of
belief--that nothing has existence for us save through the consciousness
we have of it; but for realism--and experimental psychology is of
necessity realistic--there are two distinct forms of existence.

One, subjective, having no reality except in consciousness, for the one
experiencing it, its reality being due only to belief, to that first
affirmation of the mind so often described.

The other, objective, existing in consciousness and outside of it, being
real not only for me but for all those whose constitution is similar or
analogous to mine.

This much borne in mind, let us compare the last two degrees of the
development of the imaginative life.

For the imaginer of the third stage, the two forms of existence are not
confounded. He distinguishes _two_ worlds, preferring one and making
the best of the other, but believing in both. He is conscious of passing
from one to the other. There is an alternation. The observation of Féré,
although extreme, is a proof of this.

At the fourth stage, in the insane, imaginative labor--the only kind
with which we are concerned--is so systematized that the distinction
between the two kinds of existence has disappeared. All the phantoms of
his brain are invested with objective reality. Occurrences without, even
the most extraordinary, do not reach one in this stage, or else are
interpreted in accordance with the diseased fancy. There is no longer
any alternation.[154]

By way of summary we may say: The creative imagination consists of the
property that images have of gathering in new combinations, through the
effect of a spontaneity whose nature we have attempted to describe. It
always tends to realize itself in degrees that vary from mere momentary
belief to complete objectivity. Throughout its multiple manifestations,
it remains identical with itself in its basic nature, in its
constitutive elements. The diversity of its deeds depends on the end
desired, the conditions required for its attainment, materials employed
which, as we have seen, under the collective name "representations" are
very unlike one another, not only as regards their sensuous origin
(visual, auditory, tactile, etc.) but also as regards their psychologic
nature (concrete, symbolic, affective, emotional-abstract images;
generic and schematic images, concepts--each group itself having shades
or degrees).

This constructive activity, applying itself to everything and radiating
in all directions, is in its early, typical form a mythic creation. It
is an invincible need of man to reflect and reproduce his own nature in
the world surrounding him. The first application of his mind is thinking
by analogy, which vivifies everything after the human model and attempts
to know everything according to arbitrary resemblances. Myth-making
activity, which we have studied in the child and in primitive man, is
the embryonic form whence arise by a slow evolution religious
creations--gross or refined; esthetic development, which is a fallen,
impoverished mythology; the fantastic conceptions of the world that may
little by little become scientific conceptions, with, however, an
irreducible residuum of hypotheses. Alongside of these creations, all
bordering upon what we have called the fixed form, there are practical,
objective creations. As for the latter, we could not trace them to the
same mythic source except by dialectic subtleties which we renounce. The
former arise from an internal efflorescence; the latter from urgent
life-needs; they appear later and are a bifurcation of the early trunk:
but the same sap flows in both branches.

The constructive imagination penetrates every part of our life, whether
individual or collective, speculative and practical, in all its


[146] See above, Part I, chapter II.

[147] It is a postulate of contemporary physiology that all the
neurones taken together cannot spontaneously, that is, of
themselves, give rise to any movement--they receive from without,
and expend their energy outwards. Nevertheless, between the two
moments that, in reflex and instinctive actions, seem continuous, a
third interposes, which, for the higher psychic acts, may be of long
duration. Thus, reasonings in logical form and reflection regarding
a decision to be made have a feeble tendency to become changed into
acts; their motor effects are indirect, and at a long range. But
this intermediate moment is _par excellence_ the moment for
psychology. It is also the moment of the personal equation: every
man receives, transforms, and restores outwards according to his own
organization, temperament, idiosyncrasies, character--in a word,
according to his personality, of which needs, tendencies, desires,
are the direct and immediate expression. So we come back, by another
route, to the same definition of spontaneity.

[148] Besides these three principal forms, there are intermediate
forms, transitions from one category to another, that are hard to
classify: certain mythic creations are half-sketched, half-fixed;
and we find religious and social and political conceptions, partly
theoretic or fixed, partly practical or objective.

[149] Taine, _On Intelligence_, Part I, Book II, ch. I.

[150] See Appendix E.

[151] Sante de Santis, _I Sogni_, chapter X; Dr. Tissié, _Les
Rêves_, esp. p. 165, the case of a merchant who dreams of having
paid a certain debt, and several weeks afterward meets his creditor,
and maintains that they are even, giving way only to proof.

[152] For the complete account, see his _Pathologie des émotions_,
pp. 345-49. (Paris, F. Alcan.)

[153] Dr. Max Simon, in an article on "Imagination in Insanity"
(_Annales médico-psychologiques_, December, 1876), holds that every
kind of mental disease has its own form of imagination that
expresses itself in stories, compositions, sketches, decorations,
dress, and symbolic attributes. The maniac invents complicated and
improbable designs; the persecuted, symbolic designs, strange
writings, bordering on the horrible; megalomaniacs look for the
effect of everything they say and do; the general paralytic lives in
grandeur and attributes capital importance to everything; lunatics
love the naïve and childishly wonderful.

There are also great imaginers who, having passed through a period
of insanity, have strongly regretted it "as a state in which the
soul, more exalted and more refined, perceives invisible relations
and enjoys spectacles that escape the material eyes." Such was
Gérard de Nerval. As for Charles Lamb, he would assert that he
should be envied the days spent in an insane asylum. "Sometimes," he
said in a letter to Coleridge, "I cast a longing glance backwards to
the condition in which I found myself; for while it lasted I had
many hours of pure happiness. Do not believe, Coleridge, that you
have tasted the grandeur and all the transport of fancy if you have
not been insane. Everything seems to me now insipid in comparison."
Quoted by A. Barine, _Névrosés_, p. 326.

[154] There has often been cited the instance of certain maniacs at
Charenton, who, during the Franco-Prussian War, despite the stories
that were told them, the papers that they read, and the shells
bursting under the walls of the asylum, maintained that the war was
only imagined, and that all was only a contrivance of their




Among the descriptions of the inspired state found in various authors, I
select only three, which are brief and have each a special character.

I. Mystic inspiration, in a passive form, in Jacob Boehme (_Aurora_): "I
declare before God that I do not myself know how the thing arises within
me, without the participation of my will. I do not even know that which
I must write. If I write, it is because the Spirit moves me and
communicates to me a great, wonderful knowledge. Often I do not even
know whether I dwell in spirit in this present world and whether it is I
myself that have the fortune to possess a certain and solid knowledge."

II. Feverish and painful inspiration in Alfred de Musset: "Invention
annoys me and makes me tremble. Execution, always too slow for my wish,
makes my heart beat awfully, and weeping, and keeping myself from crying
aloud, I am delivered of an idea that is intoxicating me, but of which
I am mortally ashamed and disgusted next morning. If I change it, it is
worse, it deserts me--it is much better to forget it and wait for
another; but this other comes to me so confused and misshapen that my
poor being cannot contain it. It presses and tortures me, until it has
taken realizable proportions, when comes the other pain, of bringing
forth, a truly physical suffering that I cannot define. And that is how
my life is spent when I let myself be dominated by this artistic monster
in me. It is much better, then, that I should live as I have imagined
living, that I go to all kinds of excess, and that I kill this
never-dying worm that people like me modestly term their inspiration,
but which I call, plainly, my weakness."[156]

III. The poet Grillparzer[157] analyzes the condition, thus:

"Inspiration, properly so called, is the concentration of all the
faculties and aptitudes on a single point which, for the moment, should
include the rest of the world less than represent it. The strengthening
of the state of the soul comes from the fact that its various faculties,
instead of being disseminated over the whole world, find themselves
contained within the limits of a single object, touch one another,
reciprocally upholding, reënforcing, completing themselves. Thanks to
this isolation, the object emerges out of the average level of its
_milieu_, is illumined all around and put in relief--it takes body,
moves, lives. But to attain this is necessary the concentration of all
the faculties. It is only when the art-work has been a world for the
artist that it is also a world for others."


[155] See Part One, chapter III.

[156] George Sand, _Elle et Lui_, I.

[157] In Oelzelt-Newin, _op. cit._, p. 49.



We have seen that in the question of the unconscious there
must be recognized a positive part--facts, and an hypothetical

Insofar as the facts are concerned, it would be well, I think, to
establish two categories--(1) static unconscious, comprising habits,
memory, and, in general, all that is organized knowledge. It is a state
of preservation, of rest; very relatively, since representations suffer
incessant corrosion and change. (2) Dynamic unconscious, which is a
state of latent activity, of elaboration and incubation. We might give a
multitude of proofs of this unconscious rumination. The well-known fact
that an intellectual work gains by being interrupted; that in resuming
it one often finds it cleared up, changed, even accomplished, was
explained by some psychologists prior to Carpenter by "the resting of
the mind." It would be just as valid to say that a traveler covers
leagues by lying abed. The author just mentioned[159] has brought
together many observations in which the solution of a mathematical,
mechanical, commercial problem appeared suddenly after hours and days of
vague, undefinable uneasiness, the cause of which is unknown, which,
however, is only the result of an underlying cerebral working; for the
trouble, sometimes rising to anguish, ceases as soon as the unawaited
conclusion has entered consciousness. The men who think the most are not
those who have the clearest and "most conscious" ideas, but those having
at their disposal a rich fund of unconscious elaboration. On the other
hand, shallow minds have a naturally poor unconscious fund, capable of
but slight development; they give out immediately and rapidly all that
they are able to give; they have no reserve. It is useless to allow them
time for reflection or invention. They will not do better; they may do

As to the nature of the unconscious working, we find disagreement and
darkness. One may doubtless maintain, theoretically, that in the
inventor everything goes on in subconsciousness and in unconsciousness,
just as in consciousness itself, with the exception that a message does
not arrive as far as the self; that the labor that may be followed, in
clear consciousness, in its progress and retreats, remains the same when
it continues unknown to us. This is possible. Yet it must at least be
recognized that consciousness is rigorously subject to the condition of
time, the unconscious is not. This difference, not to mention others, is
not negligible, and could well arouse other problems.

The contemporary theories regarding the nature of the unconscious seem
to me reducible to two principal positions--one psychological, the other

1. The physiological theory is simple and scarcely permits any
variations. According to it, unconscious activity is simply cerebral; it
is an "unconscious cerebration." The psychic factor, which ordinarily
accompanies the activity of the nervous centers, is absent. Although I
incline toward this hypothesis, I confess that it is full of

It has been proven through numerous experiments (Féré, Binet, Mosso,
Janet, Newbold, etc.) that "unconscious sensations"[160] act, since they
produce the same reactions as conscious sensations, and Mosso has been
able to maintain that "the testimony of consciousness is less certain
than that of the sphygmograph." But the particular instance of invention
is very different; for it does not merely suppose the adaptation to an
end which the physiological factor would suffice to explain; it implies
a series of adaptations, corrections, rational operations, of which
nervous activity alone furnishes us no example.[161]

2. The psychological theory is based on an equivocal use of the word
consciousness. Consciousness has one definite mark--it is an internal
event existing, not by itself, but for me and insofar as it is known by
me. But the psychological theory of the unconscious assumes that if we
descend from clear consciousness progressively to obscure consciousness,
to the subconscious, to the unconscious that manifests itself only
through its motor reactions, the first state thus successively
impoverished, still remains, down to its final term, identical in its
basis with consciousness. It is an hypothesis that nothing justifies.

No difficulty arises when we bear in mind the legitimate distinction
between consciousness of self and consciousness in general, the former
entirely subjective, the latter in a way objective (the consciousness of
a man captivated by an attractive scene; better yet, the fluid form of
revery or of the awaking from syncope). We may admit that this
evanescent consciousness, affective in nature, felt rather than
perceived, is due to a lack of synthesis, of relations among the
internal states, which remain isolated, unable to unite into a whole.

The difficulty commences when we descend into the region of the
subconscious, which allows stages whose obscurity increases in
proportion as we move away from clear consciousness, "like a lake in
which the action of light is always nearing extinction" (in double
coexisting personalities, automatic writing, mediums, etc.). Here some
postulate two currents of consciousness existing at the same time in one
person without reciprocal connection. Others suppose a "field of
consciousness" with a brilliant center and extending indefinitely toward
the dim distance. Still others liken the phenomenon to the movement of
waves, whose summit alone is lighted up. Indeed, the authors declare
that with these comparisons and metaphors they make no pretense of
explaining; but certainly they all reduce unconsciousness to
consciousness, as a special to a general case, and what is that if not

I do not intend to enumerate all the varieties of the psychological
theory. The most systematic, that of Myers, accepted by Delboef and
others, is full of a biological mysticism all its own. Here it is in
substance: In every one of us there is a conscious self adapted to the
needs of life, and potential selves constituting the subliminal
consciousness. The latter, much broader in scope than personal
consciousness, has dependent on it the entire vegetative
life--circulation, trophic actions, etc. Ordinarily the conscious self
is on the highest level, the subliminal consciousness on the second; but
in certain extraordinary states (hypnosis, hysteria, divided
consciousness, etc.) it is just the reverse. Here is the bold part of
the hypothesis: Its authors suppose that the supremacy of the subliminal
consciousness is a reversion, a return to the ancestral. In the higher
animals and in primitive man, according to them, all trophic actions
entered consciousness and were regulated by it. In the course of
evolution this became organized; the higher consciousness has delegated
to the subliminal consciousness the care of silently governing the
vegetative life. But in case of mental disintegration there occurs a
return to the primitive state. In this manner they explain burns through
suggestion, stigmata, trophic changes of a miraculous appearance, etc.
It is needless to dwell on this conception of the unconscious. It has
been vehemently criticised, notably by Bramwell, who remarks that if
certain faculties could little by little fall into the domain of
subliminal consciousness because they were no longer necessary for the
struggle for life, there are nevertheless faculties so essential to the
well-being of the individual that we ask ourselves how they have been
able to escape from the control of the will. If, for example, some lower
type had the power of arresting pain, how could it lose it?

At the foundation of the psychological theory in all its forms is the
unexpressed hypothesis that consciousness may be likened to a quantity
that forever decreases without reaching zero. This is a postulate that
nothing justifies. The experiments of psychophysicists, without solving
the question, would support rather the opposite view. We know that the
"threshold of consciousness" or minimum perceptible quantity, appears
and disappears suddenly; the excitation is not felt under a determinate
limit. Likewise in regard to the "summit of perception" or maximum
perceptible, any increase of excitation is no longer felt if above a
determinate limit. Moreover, in order that an increase or diminution be
felt between these two extreme limits, it is necessary that both have a
constant relation--differential threshold--as is expressed in Weber's
law. All these facts, and others that I omit, are not favorable to the
thesis of growing or diminishing continuity of consciousness. It has
even been maintained that consciousness "has an aversion for

To sum up: The two rival theories are equally unable to penetrate into
the inner nature of the unconscious factor. We have thus had to limit
ourselves to taking it as a fact of experience and to assign it its
place in the complex function that produces invention.

The observations of Flournoy (in his book, mentioned above, Part I,
chapter III) have a particular interest in relation to our subject. His
medium, Helène S......--very unlike others, who are satisfied with
forecasts of the future, disclosures of unknown past events, counsel,
prognosis, evocation, etc., without creating anything, in the proper
sense--is the author of three or four novels, one of which, at least, is
invented out of whole cloth--revelations in regard to the planet Mars,
its countries, inhabitants, dwellings, etc. Although the descriptions
and pictures of Helène S. are found on comparison to be borrowed from
our terrestrial globe, and transposed and changed, as Flournoy has well
shown, it is certain that in this "Martian novel," to say nothing of the
others, there is a richness of invention that is rare among mediums: the
creative imagination in its subliminal (unconscious) form encloses the
other in its éclat. We know how much the cases of mediums teach us in
regard to the unconscious life of the mind. Here we are permitted, as an
exceptional case, to penetrate into the dark laboratory of romantic
invention, and we can appreciate the importance of the labor that is
going on there.


[158] See Part I, Chapter III.

[159] _Mental Physiology_, Book II, chapter 13.

[160] This expression is put in quotation marks because in American
and English usage "sensation" is defined in terms of consciousness,
and such an expression as "unconscious sensation" is paradoxical,
and would lead to futile discussion. (Tr.)

[161] For the detailed criticism of unconscious cerebration, see
Boris Sidis, _The Psychology of Suggestion: A research into the
subconscious nature of Man and Society_, New York, Appletons, 1898,
pp. 121-127. The author, who assumes the coëxistence of two
selves--one waking, the other subwaking, and who attributes to the
latter all weakness and vice (according to him the unconscious is
incapable of rising above mere association by contiguity; it is
"stupid," "uncritical," "credulous," "brutal," etc.) would be
greatly puzzled to explain its rôle in creative activity.



For Froschammer, _Fancy_ is the original principle of things. In his
philosophical theory it plays the same part as Hegel's _Idea_,
Schopenhauer's _Will_, Hartmann's _Unconscious_, etc. It is, at first,
objective--in the beginning the universal creative power is immanent in
things, just as there is contained in the kernel the principle that
shall give the plant its form and construct its organism; it spreads out
into the myriads of vegetable and animal existences that have been
succeeded or that still live on the surface of the Cosmos. The first
organized beings must have been very simple; but little by little the
objective imagination increases its energy by exercising it; it invents
and realizes increasingly more complex images that attest the progress
of its artistic genius. So Darwin was right in asserting that a slow
evolution raises up organized beings towards fulness of life and beauty
of form.

Step by step, it succeeds in becoming conscious of itself in the mind of
man--it becomes subjective. Generative power, at first diffused
throughout the organism, becomes localized in the generative organs, and
becomes established in sex. "The brain, in living beings, may form a
pole opposed to the reproductive organs, especially when these beings
are very high in the organic scale." Thus changed, the generative power
has become capable of perceiving new relations, of bringing forth
internal worlds. In nature and in man it is the same principle that
causes living forms to appear--objective images in a way, and subjective
images, a kind of living forms that arise and die in the mind.[163]

This metaphysical theory, one of the many varieties of _mens agitat
molem_, being, like every other, a personal conception, it is
superfluous to discuss or criticise its evident anthropomorphism. But,
since we are dealing with hypotheses, I venture to risk a comparison
between embryological development in physiology, instinct in
psychophysiology, and the creative imagination in psychology. These
three phenomena are creations, i.e., a disposition of certain materials
following a determinate type.

In the first case, the ovum after fertilization is subject to a
rigorously determined evolution whence arises such and such an
individual with its specific and personal characters, its hereditary
influences, etc. Every disturbing factor in this evolution produces
deviations, monstrosities, and the creation does not attain the normal.
Embryology can follow these changes step by step. There remains one
obscure point in any event, and that is, the nature of what the ancients
called the _nisus formativus_.

In the case of instinct, the initial moment is an external or internal
sensation, or rather, a representation--the image of a nest to be built,
in the case of the bird; of a tunnel to be dug, for the ant; of a comb
to be made, for the bee and the wasp; of a web to be spun, for the
spider, etc. This initial state puts into action a mechanism determined
by the nature of each species, and ends in creations of special kinds.
However, variations of instinct, its adaptation to various conditions,
show that the conditions of the determinism are less simple, that the
creative activity is endowed with a certain plasticity.

In the third case, creative imagination, the ideal, a sketched
construction, is the equivalent of the ovum; but it is evident that the
plasticity of the creative imagination is much greater than that of
instinct. The imagination may radiate in several very different ways,
and the plan of the invention, as we have seen,[164] may arise as a
whole and develop regularly in an embryological manner, or else present
itself in a fragmentary, partial form that becomes complete after a
series of attractions.

Perhaps an identical process, forming three stages--a lower, middle,
and higher--is at the root of all three cases. But this is only a
speculative hypothesis, foreign to psychology proper.


[162] See above, Part One, Chapter IV.

[163] Those who, not having the courage to read the 575 pages of
Froschammer's book, want more details, may profitably consult the
excellent analysis that Séailles has given (_Rev. Philos._, March,
1878, pp. 198-220). See also Ambrosi, _Psicologia dell'
immaginazione nella storia della filosofia_, pp. 472-498.

[164] See above, Part II, chapter IV.



The question asked above,[166] Does the experiencing of purely musical
sounds evoke images, universally, and of what nature and under what
conditions? seemed to me to enter a more general field--the affective
imagination--which I intend to study elsewhere in a special work. For
the time being I limit myself to observations and information that I
have gathered, picking from them several that I give here for the sake
of shedding light on the question. I give first the replies of
musicians; then, those of non-musicians.

1. M. Lionel Dauriac writes me: "The question that you ask me is
complex. I am not a 'visualizer;' I have infrequent hypnagogic
hallucinations, and they are all of the auditory type.

"... Symphonic music aroused in me no image of the visual type while I
remained the amateur that you knew from 1876 to 1898. When that amateur
began to reflect methodically on the art of his taste, he recognized in
music a power of suggesting:

"1. Sonorous, non-musical images--thunder, clock. Example, the overture
of _William Tell_.

"2. Psychic images--suggestion of a mental state--anger, love, religious

"3. Visual images, whether following upon the psychic image or through
the intermediation of a programme.

"Under what condition, in a symphonic work, is the visual image,
introduced by the psychic image, produced? In the event of a break in
the melodic web (see my _Psychologie dans l'Opéra_, pp. 119-120). Here
are given, without orderly arrangement, some of the ideas that have come
to me:

"Beethoven's _symphony in C major_ appears to me purely musical--it is
of a sonorous design. The _symphony in D major_ (the second) suggests to
me visual-motor images--I set a ballet to the first part and keep track
altogether of the ballet that I picture. The _Heroic Symphony_ (aside
from the funeral march, the meaning of which is indicated in the title)
suggests to me images of a military character, ever since the time that
I noticed that the fundamental theme of the first portion is based on
notes of perfect harmony--trumpet-notes and, by association, military.
The _finale_ of this symphony, which I consider superior to other parts,
does not cause me to see anything. _Symphony in B flat major_--I see
nothing there--this may be said without qualification. _Symphony in C
minor_--it is dramatic, although the melodic web is never broken. The
first part suggests the image, not of Fate knocking at the gate, as
Beethoven said, but of a soul overcome with the crises of revolt,
accompanied by a hope of victory. Visual images do not come except as
brought by psychic images."

F. G., a musician, always sees--that is the rule, notably in the
_Pastoral_, and in the _Heroic Symphony_. In Bach's _Passion_ he beholds
the scene of the mystic lamb.

A composer writes me: "When I compose or play music of my own
composition I behold dancing figures; I see an orchestra, an audience,
etc. When I listen to or play music by another composer I do not see
anything." This communication also mentions three other musicians who
see nothing.

2. D......, so little of a musician that I had some trouble to make him
understand the term "symphonic music," never goes to concerts. However,
he went once, fifteen years ago, and there remains in his memory very
clearly the principal phrase of a minuet (he hums it)--he cannot recall
it without seeing people dancing a minuet.

M. O. L...... has been kind enough to question in my behalf sixteen
non-musical persons. Here are the results of his inquiry:

Eight see curved lines.

Three see images, figures springing in the air, fantastic designs.

Two see the waves of the ocean.

Three do not see anything.


[165] See Part Three, Chapter II.

[166] _Ibid._, IV.



I have questioned a very great number of imaginative persons, well known
to me as such, and have chosen preferably those who, not making a
profession of creating, let their fancy wander as it wills, without
professional care. In all the mechanism is the same, differing scarcely
more than temperament and degree of culture. Here are two examples.

B......, forty-six years of age, is acquainted with a large part of
Europe, North America, Oceania, Hindoostan, Indo-China, and North
Africa, and has not passed through these countries on the run, but,
because of his duties, resided there some time. It is worthy of remark,
as will be seen from the following observation, that the remembrance of
such various countries does not have first place in this brilliant,
fanciful personage--which fact is an argument in favor of the very
personal character of the creative imagination.

"In a general way, imagination, very lively in me, functions by
association of ideas. Memory or the outer world furnishes me some data.
On this data there is not always, though there should be, imaginative
work proper, and then things remain as they are, without end.

"But when I meet a construction--it matters little whether ancient or in
the course of erection--the formula, 'That ought to be fixed,' is one
that rises mechanically to my mind in such a case; often it happens that
I think aloud and say it, although alone. When going away from the
architectural subject[168] under consideration, I make up infinite
variations upon it, one after another. Sometimes the things start from a

After having noted his preference for the architecture of the Middle
Ages, B...... adds (here he touches on the unconscious factor):

"Were I to explain or attempt to explain how the Middle Ages have such
an attraction for my mind, I should see therein an atavistic
accumulation of religious feeling fixed in my family, on the female side
no doubt, and of religiousness in ecclesiastical architecture--these

"Another example illustrating the rôle of association of ideas in the
same matter. One Sunday night I left Noumea in the carriage of Dr.
F...... who was going to visit a nunnery five leagues from there. At the
moment of our arrival the doctor asked what time it was. 'Half-past
two,' I said, looking at my watch. As we stopped in the convent court
in front of the chapel I _heard_ the lusty conclusion of a psalm. 'They
are singing vespers,' I remarked to the doctor. He commenced to laugh.
'What time are vespers sung in your town?' 'At half-past two,' I
answered. I opened the chapel door in order to show the doctor that
vespers had just been held: the chapel was vacant. As I stood there,
somewhat non-plussed, the doctor remarked, 'Cerebral automatism.'

"I may add here, _by association_ of ideas. The doctor had seen through
me, and had with fine insight perceived _why_ I had _heard_ the end of
the psalm. The incident made a great impression on me, all the more as
ever since the age of eight my memory testifies to a like hallucination,
but of sight in place of hearing. It was at L...... that on Good Friday
they rang at the cathedral with all their might. It was the very moment
before the bells remain silent for three days, and it is known that this
silence, ordained in the liturgy, is explained to children by telling
them that during these two days the bells have flown to Rome. Naturally
I was treated to this little tale, and as they finished telling it, I
_saw_ a bell flying at an angle that I could still describe.

"But this transforming power of my imagination is not present in me to
the same extent as regards all things. It is much more operative in
relation to Romano-Gothic architecture, mystic literature, and
sociological knowledge than in relation, for instance, to my memories of
travels. When I see again, in the mind's eye, the Isle of Bourbon,
Niagara, Tahiti, Calcutta, Melbourne, the Pyramids and the Sphinx, the
graphic representation is intellectually perfect. The objects live again
in all their external surroundings. I feel the _Khamsinn_, the desert
wind that scorched me at the foot of Pompey's Column; I hear the sea
breaking into foam on the barrier reef of Tahiti. But the image does not
lead to evocation of related or parallel ideas.

"When, on the other hand, I take a walk over the Comburg moor, the
castle weighs upon me in all its massiveness; the recollections of the
_Mémoires d'Outre-tombe_ besiege me like living pictures. I see, like
Chateaubriand himself, the family of great famished lords in their
feudal castle. With Chateaubriand I return in the twinkling of an eye to
the Niagara that we have both seen. In the fall of the waters I find the
deep and melancholy note that he himself found; and after that I think
of that dark cathedral of Dol that evidently suggested to the author his
_Génie du Christianisme_.

"In literature, things are very unequally suggestive to me. Classic
literature has only few paths outwards for me--Tacitus, Lucretius,
Juvenal, Homer, and Saint-Simon excepted. I read the other authors of
this class partly for themselves, without making a comparison. On the
other hand, the reading of Dante, Shakespeare, St. Jerome's compact
verses on the Hebrew, and Middle Age prose excites within me a whole
world of ideas, like Wagner's music, _canto-fermo_, and Beethoven.
Certain things form a link for me from one order of ideas to another.
For example, Michaelangelo and the Bible, Rembrandt and Balzac, Puvis de
Chavannes and the Merovingian narratives.

"To sum up: There are in me certain _milieux_ especially favorable to
imagination. When any circumstance brings me into one of them, it is
rare that an imaginative network does not occur; and, if one is
produced, association of ideas will perform the work. When I give myself
up to serious work, I have to mistrust myself: and in this connection I
shall surprise people when I say that in the class of ideas above
indicated the subject exciting the most ideas in me is sociology."

M......, sixty years of age, artistic temperament. Because of the
necessities of life, he has followed a profession entirely opposite to
his bent. He has given me his "confession" in the form of fragmentary
notes made day by day. Many are _moral_ remarks on the subject of his
imagination--I leave them out. I note especially the unconquerable
tendency to make up little romances and some details in regard to visual
representation, and a dislike for numbers.

"It happens that I experience sharp regret when I see the photograph of
a monument, e.g., the Pantheon, the proportions of which I have
constructed according to the descriptions of the monument and the idea
that I had of the life of the Greeks. The photograph mars my dream.

"From the seen to the unknown. In the S. G. library. A slender young
woman, smartly dressed--spotless black gloves--between her fingers a
small pencil and a tiny note-book. What business has this affectation
this morning in a classic and dull building, in a common environment of
poor workmen? She is not a servant-maid, and not a teacher. Now for the
solution of the unknown. I follow the woman to her family, into her
home, and it is quite a task.

"In the same library. I want to get an address from the _Almanach
Bottin_. A young man, perhaps a student, has borrowed the ridiculous
volume. Bent over it, his hands in his hair, he turns the leaves with
the sage leisure of a scholar looking for a commentary. From the empty
dictionary he often draws out a letter. He must have received this
letter this morning from the country. His family advises him to apply to
so-and-so. It is a question of money and employment. He must locate the
people who, provincial ignorance said, are near him. And so goes the
wandering imagination.

"When I feel myself drawn to anyone, I prefer seeing images or portraits
rather than the reality. That is how I avoid making unforeseen
discoveries that would spoil my model.

"If I make numerical calculations, in the absence of concrete factors,
the imagination goes afield, and the figures group themselves
mechanically, harkening to an inner voice that arranges them in order to
get the sense.

"There may be an imagination devoted to arithmetical
calculations--forms, beings intrude, even the outline of the figure 3,
for example; and then the addition or any other calculation is ruined.

"I revert to the impossibility of making an addition without a swerve of
imagination, because plastic figures are always ready before the
calculator. The man of imagination is always constructing by means of
plastic images.[169] Life possesses him, intoxicates him, so he never
gets tired."



[167] See Conclusion, II, above.

[168] B...... is not an architect.

[169] We see that the speaker is a visualizer.


Absent images, Association of, 94.

Abstraction, 15;
  Late appearance of, 146.

Abulics, 11.

Activity, normal end of imagination, 11.

Adaptation of means to end, 264.

Advance plans in commerce, 288.

Adventure, Eras of, 287.

Affective states, Rôle of, 8.

Alcoholic liquors, 74.

Alembert, d', 87.

Alexander, 138, 142, 143.

Alfieri, 56.

Allen, 150.

Americans, change occupations, 257.

Analogy, 299;
  Abuse of, 305;
  based on qualitative resemblance, 26;
  essential to creative imagination, 25;
  not trustworthy in science, 27;
  Rôle of, in primitive life, 125;
  Thinking by, 117.

Anatomical conditions, 65.

Anger, 34.

Animal fancy, 97.

Animals, Association fibers or centers, lacking in, 100;
  Discoveries of, 98;
  Imagination in, 93, 94;
  Usefulness of, to man, 274.

Animism, 107, 189;
  of primitives, 123.

Anticipations of later inventions, 277.

Apollo, 50.

Apperception, Importance of, 16.

_Apprehensio simplex_, a logical figment, 110.

Arago, 145.

Aristotle, vi, 134, 141.

Art, Indefiniteness of modern, 203;
  Realistic, 250;
  Various theories of, 46.

Artificial motors, Use of, a late development, 275.

Aryan race, 129.

Association, 22, 23;
  Forms of, 196;
  Laws of, 23;
  of ideas, 59, 353;
  of ideas, Criticism of the term, 23;
  of ideas, Discovery depends on, 250;
  suggests cause, 261.

Associational systems, 67.

Astral influences, 261.

Asyllogistic deduction, 283.

Attention, 86.

Australians, 285.

Automatisms, 71.

Azam, 325.

Bach, 69, 214, 216.

Bacon, Roger, 245, 303 n.

Baillarger, Dr., 324.

Baldwin, 104.

Barter, 286.

Baudelaire, 39, 55.

Beethoven, 52, 71, 148, 218.

Bernard, Claude, 52;
  _idée directrice_ of, 250.

Binet, 340.

Bipartite division of the brain, 67.

Bismarck, 271.

Blood circulation, Importance of, 70.

Boehme, Jacob, 335.

Bonnal, 298 n.

Borgia, Lucretia, 139.

Bossuet, 225.

Boulogne, De, 283.

Bourdeau, L., 272.

Brain- development and abstraction, 100;
  regions, Development of, 67;
  weights, 66.

Bramwell, 343.

Breguet, 277.

Brown-Séquard, 77.

Buddha, Life of, 301.

Buffon, 52, 73.

Byron, 145.

Cabalists, 234.

Cabalistic mysticism, 226.

Cabanis, 78.

Campanella, 303.

Carlyle, 150, 186.

Carpenter, 284, 339.

Carthage, 282.

Categories of images, 16.

Causality, Search for, 260.

Charcot, 6.

Charlemagne, 138.

Chateaubriand, 76.

Chatterton, 145.

Cherubini, 145.

Child, Adult misinterpretation of, 104;
  Creative imagination in the, 103 ff.;
  Exaggeration of his intelligence, 115;
  Oscillation of belief and doubt in the, 113;
  Stages of development, 105.

Child-study, Difficulties of, 104.

Chopin, 52, 215.

Chorea, 101.

Cid, The, 140.

Classes of discoverers, 249.

Classification, 181.

Coleridge, 37.

Colored hearing, 38.

Columbus, Christopher, 89.

Commerce, Combative element in, 295.

Commercial imagination, Conditions of, 281;
  development due to increasing substitution, 287;
  development, Stages of, 285.

Common factor in comparison, 40.

Complementary scientists, 246.

Complete images impossible, 16.

Comte, 146.

Condillac, 243.

Confucius, 300.

Confusion of impressions, 18.

Conjecture, beginning of science, 245.

Conscious imagination, a special case, 58.

Constellation, 59, 126.

Constitutions by philosophers, 309.

Contiguity and resemblance, 24.

Contrapuntists, 214.

Contrast, Association by, 40.

Cooperation, 309;
  of intellect and feeling, 43.

Copernicus, 246.

Counter-world, 304.

Creation hindered by complete redintegration, 22;
  in physiological inhibition, 6;
  Motor basis of, 258;
  Physiological and imaginative, 76;
  versus repetition, 5.

Creative imagination, a growth, 9;
  Composite character of, 12;
  conditioned by knowledge, 173;
  either esthetic or practical, 44;
  implies feeling, 32;
  Neglect of, by writers on psychology, vii;
  Reasons for, 313.

Creative instinct, non-existent, 42.

Crisis, not essential, 58.

Critical stage of investigation, 252.

Cromwell, 144.

Cumulative inventions, 272.

Curiosity, 99;
  of primitive man, 45, 131.

Cuvier, 183.

Daedalus, 269.

Dante, 205.

Darwin, 117, 346.

Dauriac, 350.

Deduction, Process of, 283.

Deffant, Madame du, 48.

Deities, Coalescence of, 200;
  Momentary, 199;
  Multiplicity of Roman, 125.

Delboef, 342.

DeQuincy, 55.

Descartes, 73, 294.

Determinism, Neglect of, by idealists, 303;
  of art, 278;
  of invention, 264.

Dewey, John, 132 n.

_Dialectic_, Hegelian, 254.

Diffluent imagination, 196 ff.

_Dii minores_, 269.

Disinterestedness of the artist, 35.

Dissociation, 15, 268;
  by concomitant variations, 21;
  of series, 19.

Double personality, 325.

Dreams, 38;
  Emotional persistence of, 324.

Drugs, Effect of, 55;
  Use of, as excitants, 70.

Dualism of Fourier, 306.

Dürer, 145.

Egypt, 135.

Egyptian conception of causality, 260.

Emotion, and sensation, 38;
  material for imagination, 33;
  presupposes unsatisfied needs, 32;
  Realization of, 80.

Emotional abstraction, 196;
  factor, 31 ff.

Empedocles, 136.

Epic, Rise of the, 138.

Essenes, 307.

Esthetic imagination,
  contrasted to mechanical, 264;
  Fixity of, 264.

Ethics, Living and dead, 302.

Euclid, 244, 245.

Eureka, Moment of, 247, 302.

Evolution of commerce, Law's statement of, 294.

Exact knowledge requisite in commerce, 289.

Expansion of self, 314.

Experience requisite for literary invention, 146.

External factors, 21.

Facts and general ideas, 252.

Faith, 112;
  -cure, 6;
  highest in semi-science, 241;
  Rôle of, 7.

Fancy, 346;
  in animals, 97;
  Source of, 260.

Fear, 34.

Fenelon, 303.

Féré, 325, 340.

Fiduciary money, 286.

Fixed ideas, 88, 89.

Flechsig, 67, 68, 100, 103.

Flournoy, 38, 344.

Forel, 96.

Fouillée, 193.

Fourier, 304.

French, not strong in imagination, 193;
  Revolution, 151.

Fresnel, 145.

Fromentin, 17.

Froschammer, 75, 346.

Fuegians, 285.

Gauss, 69, 183.

Gautier, Théophile, 55, 189, 190.

Gavarni, 187.

Generic image, 18.

Genius, and brain structure, 68;
  depends on subliminal imagination, 57;
  exceptional, 149;
  No common measure of, 143.

Geniuses, of judgment, 142;
  of mastery over men, and matter, 142.

Gilman, 219 n.

Gnostics, 234.

Goethe, 29, 149, 150, 216.

Gold, Curative powers of, 261.

Goncourt, 74.

Goya, 39, 206.

Greece, 282.

Greek republics, 151.

Grétry, 73.

Grillparzer, 85, 336.

Groos, 35, 47, 99, 227.

Guericke, Otto de, 276.

Habits, 22.

Hamilton, 19, 58, 60.

Handel, 145.

Hanseatic League, 287.

Harrington, 303.

Hartmann, 254, 346.

Haüy, 247.

Haydn, 145.

Hegel, 254, 346.

Heine, 306.

Hellenic imagination, anthropomorphic, 202.

Helmholtz, 20, 87, 142.

Henry IV, 139.

Hephæstos, 269.

Hercules, 137.

Hero, 270.

Herodotus, 260.

Hesiod, 130.

Hindoo imagination, symbolic, 202.

Hindoos, 128.

Hodgson, 35.

Höffding, 41.

Hoffman, 39, 206.

_Homo duplex_, 43.

Homonomy, 120.

Howe, 60 n.

Huber, 96.

Hugo, Victor, 188, 189, 216, 229;
  Animism in, 189.

Human force, beginning of invention, 273.

Hume, 111.

Huyghens, 270.

Hyperæmia, 70.

Hyperesthesia, Temporary, 74.

Hypermnesia, 54.

Hypothesis, 251;
  Progressive, 244.

Icarus, 269.

Idea and emotion, Equivalence of, 80.

Ideal modified in practice, 306.

Idealistic conceptions, 300.

Idealization, Process of, 38.

Illusion, 107;
  and legend, 137;
  Conscious, of mystic, 228.

Illusions, valuable to scientist, 251.

Image, Modification of, 18, 291.

Images, 80;
  abbreviations of reality, 232;
  Categories of, 16;
  Concrete, 222;
  provoked, 188;
  sketched type, 81;
  Symbolic, 222;
  Visual, provoked by music, 217.

Imagination, and abulia, 11;
  and foresight, 284;
  anthropocentric, 10;
  basis of the cosmic process, 75;
  Commercial, 281;
  complete in animals, 95;
  condensed in common objects, 276;
  Conditions of, 44;
  Development of, 167 ff.;
  Diffluent, 196 ff.;
  Esthetic, 264;
  fixed form, 318;
  in animals, 93;
  in experimentation, 248;
  in primitive man, 118;
  Mechanical and technical, 257;
  Motives of different sorts of, 251;
  Musical, 212 ff., 350;
  Mystic, 221 ff.;
  Mystical, different from religious, 231;
  not opposed to the useful, 263;
  Numerical, 207 ff.;
  Periods of development of, 144;
  Plastic, 184 ff.;
  Poetical, 267;
  Practical, 256 ff.;
  present in all activities, viii;
  Quality of, same in many lives, 265;
  Scientific, 236 ff.;
  sketched form, 316;
  substitute for reason, 29;
  Varieties of, 180.

Imaginative type, 320.

Imitation, through pleasure, 98.

Imitative music, 214.

Impersonality, 52, 86.

Incomplete images, 18.

Incubation, Periods of, 278.

Individual variations, 179.

Individuality of genius, 149.

Inductive reasoning, 132.

Infantile insanity, 101.

Inhibition by representation, 6.

Initial moment of discovery, 276.

Inspiration, 50, 85;
  and intoxication, 55;
  Characteristic of, 57;
  characterized by suddenness and impersonality, 51;
  resembles somnambulism, 56;
  Subjective feeling of, untrustworthy, 59.

Instinct, 75;
  answer to specific needs, 42;
  Creative, 313;
  Resemblance of invention to, 48.

Intellectual factor, 15.

Intuition, 282, 285.

Introspectors, 321.

Intentional combination of images, 95.

Interest, a factor in creation, 82.

Interesting, defined, 36.

Invention arises to satisfy a need, 271;
  Higher forms of, 140 ff.;
  in morals, 300;
  in successive parts, 296;
  of monopolies, 282;
  Pain of, 51;
  Spontaneity of, 51;
  subjected to tradition, 269.

Inventions, Amplifiers of, 270;
  largely anonymous, 275;
  Mechanical, neglected by psychologists, 263;
  Stratification of, 272.

Inventors deified, 269;
  Oddities of, 72.

James, William, 21, 25, 37, 83, 112.

Janet, 340.

Jealousy, stimulates imagination, 34.

Jordæns, 145.

Joy, 34.

Kant, 248.

Kepler, 246, 247.

Klopstock, 215.

Kühn, 129.

Lagrange, 71.

Lamennais, 73.

Lang, 128, 261.

Language, Origin of, 120.

Laplace, 250.

Larvated epilepsy, 141.

Lavoisier, 246.

Law, 294.

Lazarus, 47.

Leibniz, 73, 74, 146, 253, 296 n.

Lélut, 141.

Leurechon, 277.

Liebig, 244.

Linnæus, 183.

Literal mysticism, 226.

Localization, 65.

Loch Lomond, 58.

Locke, 309.

Lombroso, 141, 142.

Louis XIV, 150.

Love, 34;
  and hate, 134.

Love-plays, 99.

Machiavelli, 73.

Machines, counterfeits of human beings, 279.

Man and animals, Specific quality of, 273.

Manu, 300.

Mastery, Spirit of, 114.

Materials of imagination, 299.

Maury, A., 6 n.

Mechanic and poet, 279.

Mechanical aptitude, 145.

Mechanical imagination, Ideal of, 268.

Mediate association, 59.

Memory, Predominant tendencies in, 61;
  untrustworthy, 17.

Men, Great, as makers of history, 150.

Mendelssohn, 145, 213 n., 215, 216.

Mental chemistry, 82.

Merchant sailors, 282.

Metamorphosis, 28;
  of deities, 129;
  Regressive, 171.

Metaphysical speculation, 251;
  thought, Stages of, 252.

Metaphysics, 252 ff.

Methods of invention, 243.

Meynert, 100.

Michaelangelo, 145, 148, 149.

Michelet, 186, 306.

Middle Ages, predominantly imaginative, 174.

Military invention, 295;
  Conditions of, 297.

Mill, John Stuart, 82, 284.

Milton, 73.

Mimicry, 98.

Mind, Varieties of, 320.

Mission, Consciousness of, 148.

Misunderstanding of the new, 151.

Mobility of inventors, 258.

Monadology, 253.

Money, Invention of, 286;
  sought as an end, 289.

Monge, 237.

Moses, 300.

More, 303, 309.

Morgan, Lloyd, 99.

Mormons, 307.

Monoideism, 87.

Montgolfier, 277.

Moral geniuses, 301.

Moravian brotherhood, 307.

Mosso, 71, 340.

Motor elements in all representation, 4;
  elements, Rôle of, 7;
  manifestation basis of creation, 9.

Movements, Importance of, in imagination, 3.

Mozart, 73, 145.

Müller, Max, 120, 129, 130.

Mummy powder, 261.

Münsterberg, 60.

Muses, 50.

Music an emotional language, 220;
  Precocity in, 144.

Musical imagination, 212, 350.

Musset, Alfred de, 335.

Myers, 342.

Mystic imagination, 221 ff., 335.

Mystics, Abuse of allegory, by, 225;
  Belief of, 227;
  Metaphorical style of, 224.

Mysticism by suggestion, 229.

Myth, defined, 123;
  Depersonification of, 133;
  in Plato, 134;
  in science, 134;
  Subjective and objective factors in, 122.

Myths, Significance of, 119;
  Variations in, 127.

Myth-making activity, viii, 331.

Napoleon, 10, 66, 71, 142;
  his war practice, 298.

Natural, and human phenomena, 299;
  law, Uniformity of, opposed to dissociation, 21;
  motors, Use of, 275.

Naville, 245.

Need of knowing, 314.

Neglect of details in sensation, 20.

Nerval, Gérard de, 229, 324.

Nervous overflow, 71.

New Larnak, 309.

Newbold, 340.

Newcomen, 270.

Newton, 58, 87, 146.

Nietzsche, 150.

_Nomina Numina_, 120, 262.

Nordau, 142.

Numerical imagination, 207 ff.;
  mysticism, 226;
  series unlimited, 207.

Objective study of inventors, 71.

Oddities of inventors, 72.

Oelzelt-Newin, 33, 95.

Old age, Effect of, on imagination, 77.

Organic conditions, 65.

Orientation conditioned by individual organization, 48;
  Personal, 270.

Owen, Robert, 309.

Paradox of belief, 242.

Paralysis by ideas, 6.

Pascal, 146, 244.

Pasteur, 142, 143, 251.

Pathological view of genius, 141.

Pathology and physiology, 74.

Perception, 15;
  and conception, 184;
  and imagination, 106.

Perez, B., 115.

Persistence of ideas due to feeling, 79.

Personification, 186;
  characteristic of aborigines and children, 27;
  source of myth, 28.

Phalanges, Organization of society into, 305.

Philippe, J., 17 n.

Philosophy, a transformation of mystic ideas, 233.

Phlogiston, 248.

Physiological states, 70.

Physiology and pathology, 74.

Plastic art and mythology, 191;
  imagination, 184 f.

Plato, 134, 303, 309.

Platonic ideas, 81, 253.

Play, 47, 97;
  Uses of, for man, 114.

Plotinus, 234.

Poe, 39, 206, 324.

Poet, a workman, 190.

Poetical imagination, general characters, 267;
  Inspiration in, 268;
  special characters, 270.

Poetical invention, Stages of, 266.

Polyideism, 87.

Polynomy, 120.

Poncelet, 143.

Positive minds, 318.

Powers of nature, Exploitation of 271.

Practical imagination, Ubiquity of, 254.

Practice, essential in motor creation, 186.

Precocity, 144;
  in poetry, 145;
  of mathematicians, 147.

Pre-Raphaelites, 204.

Preyer, 117.

Primitive man, 45;
  and myth, 118 ff.

Principle of unity, 250.

Progressive stages of imagination, 84.

Prometheus, 269.

Provoked revival, 94.

Pseudo-science, 240.

Psychic atoms, 19;
  paralysis, 6.

Psychological regressions, 248.

Puberty, Influence of, on imagination, 76.

Pythagoras, 226, 246.

Pythagoreans, 134.

Qualities, Attribution of, to objects, 124.

Raphael, 145.

Rational Metaphysics, 234.

Reason, Objectivity of, 10.

Reciprocal working of scientific and practical discoveries, 249.

Recuperative theory of play, 97.

Redintegration, Law of, 19;
  Total, 36.

Regis, 54.

Religion, Universality of, 128.

Renaissance, 151, 175.

Reni, Guido, 73.

Repetition versus creation, 5, 23.

Representation and belief inseparable, 110.

Representations, Interchange of, 323;
  Number of, 322.

Revery, 38, 198, 316.

Reymond, Du Bois, 52.

Reynolds, 6, 325.

Roland, 138.

Roman Republic, 151.

Romans, 125.

Romanes, 94, 95, 96.

Romantic invention, 115.

Röntgen, 142.

Rossini, 73.

Rousseau, 309.

Rubens, 145.

Rüdinger, 69.

Saint-Simonism, 309.

Sand, George, 52, 215.

Satanic literature, 206.

Schelling, 253.

Schematic images, 18, 291.

Schiller, 47, 72, 73, 145.

Schopenhauer, 37, 149, 150, 253, 346.

Schubert, 145.

Schumann, 215.

Science, 45;
  Conjecture beginning of, 245;
  prescribes conditions and limits to imagination, 236;
  Three movements in growth of, 239.

Scientific imagination, 236 ff.

Scripture, 60.

Self-feeling, 35.

Semi-science, 240.

Seneca, 141.

Sensation changed in memory, 17.

Sensorial insanity, 101.

Sexual instinct, 314.

Shakers, 307.

Shakespeare, 143, 186.

Shelly, 56.

Social aims in finance, 294;
  invention, limited by the past, 308;
  wants, 314.

Socialism, Utopian and scientific, 310.

Societies for special ends, 307.

Sorrow, 34.

Special modes of scientific imagining, 237.

Specific, not general imagination, 179.

Spencer, 47, 131, 150.

Spinoza, 110, 143, 254.

Spirits, Belief in, 51.

Spontaneity, 296.

Spontaneous revival, 94, 315.

Spontaneous variations, 140.

Stages of passage from percept to concept, 292.

Stallo, 134.

State credit, Law's system of, 294.

Stewart, Dugald, 111.

Stigmata, etc., unprecedented in individual's experience, 7.

Stigmatized individuals, 6.

Subjective factors, 20.

Subliminal imagination, 57.

Sully, 21.

_Summa_, 254.

Summary, 330.

Superstition and religion, 259.

Symbolism of Hindoos, 202.

Taine, 18, 111, 117, 129, 150, 200.

Teleological character of will and imagination, 10.

Thales, 134.

Titchener, 83.

Tolstoi, 151.

Tools, 274.

Tours, Moreau de, 55, 78, 141.

Triptolemus, 269.

Tropisms, 75.

Tycho-Brahé, 73, 246, 270.

Tylor, 99, 123, 125, 131, 139.

Tyndall, 238.

Tyre, 282.

Unconscious, Nature of the, 339;
  physiological theory, 340, 341.

Unconscious cerebration, 53;
  factor, 50 ff.;
  factor, not a distinct element in invention, 64.

Units of exchange, 286.

Unity, Principle of, 79.

_Universale post rem_, 84.

Utopias, based on author's _milieu_, 303.

Utopian imagination, 299.

Utopians, indifferent to realization, 309.

Van Dyck, 145.

Vaucanson, 48.

Vedic epoch, 129.

Vesication, 5, 7.

Vicavakarma, 269.

Vico, 174.

Vignoli, 128.

Vinci, Leonardo da, 58, 149.

_Vis a fronte_ and _a tergo_, 11.

Vocation, Change of, 172;
  Choice of, 144.

Voltaire, 150.

Voluntary activity analogous to creative imagination, 9.

Von Baer, 210.

Von Hartmann, 224.

Wagner, 145.

Wahle, 62.

Wallace, 96, 99.

Wallaschek, 99.

Watch, Evolution of the, 270.

Watt, James, 66, 244, 270.

Wealth, desired from artistic motives, 290.

Weber, E. F., 5, 145, 216.

Weismann, 148.

Wernicke, 100.

Wiertz, 39, 206.

Will, The broad meaning of, 112;
  a coordinating function, 9;
  Effect of, on physiological functioning, 5.

Words, Rôle of, 96.

Wundt, 24, 40, 182.

Zeller, 226.

Ziehen, 61, 62.

Zoroaster, 300.

  | Transcriber's Notes:                                         |
  |                                                              |
  | Page 23: Fn. 8: Phychology amended to Psychology             |
  | Page 25: Missing footnote marker in original. Added          |
  | footnote marker after James quote.                           |
  | Page 35: casual amended to causal                            |
  | Page 38: haphazard amended to haphazardly; grouping amended  |
  | to groupings                                                 |
  | Page 39: subejct amended to subject                          |
  | Page 54: vender _sic_                                        |
  | Page 56: "Under the influence of alcoholic drinks and of     |
  | poisonous intoxicants attention and will always fall into    |
  | exhaustion." _sic_ Possibly the word "does" or similar       |
  | is missing before "and," or "and" is superfluous.            |
  | Page 55: subtances amended to substances                     |
  | Page 75: images amended to image                             |
  | Page 84: unisersale amended to universale                    |
  | Page 85: The following lines transposed: "which, for the     |
  | time being, should represent the" and "all the forces and    |
  | capacities upon a single point"                              |
  | Page 123: fill amended to fills                              |
  | Page 151: duplicate "the" removed ("the the deep working of  |
  | the masses")                                                 |
  | Page 155: Section II amended to IV                           |
  | Page 163: Section III amended to V                           |
  | Page 193: Saxin amended to Saxon                             |
  | Page 200: everyone amended to every one                      |
  | Page 208: apalling amended to appalling                      |
  | Page 213: Missing footnote marker in original. Added         |
  | footnotemarker after last paragraph on page.                 |
  | Page 226: caballists amended to cabalists                    |
  | Page 229: plant and tree amended to plants and trees         |
  | Page 236: In Chapter IV, "The Scientific Imagination," there |
  | are sections II, III, IV and V, but no section I.            |
  | Page 250: dyssymetry amended to dyssymmetry                  |
  | Page 280: Missing footnote marker in original. Added         |
  | footnote marker after "... inorganic life."                  |
  | Page 286: Fn. 132: Evolution amended to Évolution            |
  | Page 292: acording amended to according                      |
  | Page 294: managable amended to manageable                    |
  | Page 297: opoprtune amended to opportune                     |
  | Page 319: or amended to of ("the double of savages")         |
  | Page 321: quintescence amended to quintessence               |
  | Page 338: Footnote marker and number added to note on page.  |
  | Footnote marker added at end of first paragraph.             |
  | Page 348: quivalent amended to equivalent                    |
  | Page 351: l'Opera amended to l'Opéra                         |
  | Page 365: Lammennais amended to Lamennais                    |
  | Page 365: Michelangelo amended to Michaelangelo              |
  |                                                              |
  | Part II, Chapter II: The chapter heading in the table of     |
  | contents differs from that shown on page 102. Left as is.    |
  |                                                              |
  | Accented letters, italicisation and the punctuation of       |
  | abbreviations have been standardised.                        |
  |                                                              |
  | Where a word is spelt differently and there is an equal      |
  | number of instances, the variant spellings have been left as |
  | is: Hephaestos/Hephæstos; Jordaens/Jordæns;                  |
  | Linnaeus/Linnæus.                                            |

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