By Murray Hunter University Malaysia Perlis
Imagination is the ability to form mental images, phonological passages, analogies, or narratives of something that is not perceived through our senses. Imagination is a manifestation of our memory and enables us to scrutinize our past and construct hypothetical future scenarios that do not yet, but could exist. Imagination also gives us the ability to see things from other points of view and empathize with others.
Imagination extends our experience and thoughts, enabling a personal construction of a world view that lowers our sense of uncertainty. In this way our imagination fills in the gaps within our knowledge enabling us to create mental maps that make meaning out of the ambiguities of situations we face where information is lacking, which is an important function of our memory management. Imagination enables us to create new meanings from cognitive cues or stimuli within the environment, which on occasions can lead to new insights.
Our knowledge and personal goals are embedded within our imagination which is at the heart of our existence, a cognitive quality that we would not be human without. Imagination is the means novelists use to create their stories. Imagination is the essence of marketing opportunity that conjures up images and entices fantasy to consumers, allowing them to feel what it would be like to live at Sanctuary Cove in Northern Queensland, Australia, receiving a Citibank loan, driving a Mercedes 500 SLK around town, or holidaying in Bali. Imagination decomposes what already is, replacing it with what could be, and is the source of hope fear, enlightenment, and aspirations.
Imagination is not a totally conscious process. New knowledge may incubate subconsciously when a person has surplus attention to focus on recombining memory and external stimuli into new meanings. Most people tend to spend a great deal of time while they are awake "daydreaming". This may be enough to activate our default network, a web of autobiographical mental imagery, which may provide new connections and perspectives about a problem we have been concerned with.
Unguided imagination through dreaming and "daydreaming" enables the gathering of information from different parts of our memory, which may not be easy to access consciously. This information may come from a within a narrow domain or a much wider field. The more imagination takes account of the wider field, experience, and prior knowledge, the more likely these ideas created through imagination will have some originality - through complex knowledge restructuring. Creative insight occurs mostly as the result of triggers and slow incubation periods that lead to a revelation.
It is through the imagery of analogies that many breakthroughs in science have been achieved. Einstein developed his insight for the theory of relativity through imagining what would happen if he travelled at the speed of light, Faraday claimed to have visualized force lines from electric and magnetic fields from a wood fire giving insight into the theory of electromagnetic fields and kekulé reported that he gained insight into the shape of the benzene molecule after he imagined a snake coiled up in a circle.
Imagination is a multidimensional concept and encompasses a number of different modes which can be described as follows;
1. Effectuative imagination combines information together to synergize new concepts and ideas. However these are often incomplete and need to be enhanced, modified, and/or elaborated upon as more information from the environment comes to attention and is reflected upon. Effectuative imagination can be either guided or triggered by random thoughts, usually stimulated by what a person experiences within the framework of their past experience. Effectuative imagination may also incubate from pondering over a specific problem within the occasional attention of a person. Effectuative imagination is extremely flexible and allows for continuous change. This is an important ingredient in entrepreneurial planning, strategy crafting, particularly in opportunity construction, development, and assembling all the necessary resources required to exploit any opportunity.
2. Intellectual imagination is utilized when considering and developing hypotheses from different pieces of information or pondering over various issues of meaning say in the areas of philosophy, management, or politics, etc. Intellectual imagination originates from a definite idea or plan and thus is guided imagination as it has a distinct purpose which in the end must be articulated after a period of painstaking and sometimes meticulous endeavor. This can be very well illustrated with Charles Darwin's work which resulted in the development of his hypothesis explained in his book The Origin of Species which took almost two decades to gestate and complete. Darwin collected information, analyzed it, evaluated and criticized the findings, and then reorganized all the information into new knowledge in the form of a hypothesis. Intellectual imagination is a very conscious process.
3. Imaginative fantasy creates and develops stories, pictures, poems, stage-plays, and the building of the esoteric, etc. This form of imagination may be based upon the inspiration of some fact or semi-autobiographical experiences, extrapolated or analogized into new persona and events that conform to or stretch the realms of reality into magic, supernatural mythology and folklore. Imaginative fantasy may be structural with mythical people in real world settings, past, present, or future, with real people in mythical settings. Fantasy may totally disregard the rules of society, science and nature, or extrapolate them into the future with science fiction. Fantasy can also be based upon human emotions, distorted historical facts, historical times and political issues, take a theme and fantasize it, encapsulate dark fantasy, or evoke urban legend. Imaginative fantasy can be a mixture of guided and unguided imagination and is important to artists, writers, dancers, and musicians, etc.
4. Empathy is a capacity we have to connect to others and feel what they are feeling. Empathy helps a person know emotionally what others are experiencing from their frame and reference. Empathy allows our mind 'to detach itself from one's self' and see the world from someone else's feelings, emotions, pain, and reasoning. Empathy links us to the larger community and thus important to human survival in enabling us to understand what is required to socially coexist with others. Besides being extremely important in interpersonal relationships, empathy is an important tool for competitive strategy as it enables one to think about how our competitors would react to our moves and what they would do. Branding can also be considered a result of empathy as marketers try and capture connections with potential customers by appealing to their emotions, self identity and aspirations.
5. Strategic imagination is concerned about vision of 'what could be', the ability to recognize and evaluate opportunities by turning them into mental scenarios, seeing the benefits, identifying the types and quantities of resources required for taking particular actions, and the ability to weigh up all the issues in a strategic manner. A vision helps a person focus upon the types of opportunities suited to their disposition. Vision has varying strengths in different people depending upon their ego characteristics and motivations. Strategic imagination in some cases is a form of wisdom.
6. Emotional imagination is concerned with manifesting emotional dispositions and extending them into emotional scenarios. Without any imagination, emotion would not be able to emerge from our psych and manifest as feelings, moods, and dispositions. Fear requires the imagination of what is fearful, hate requires imagination about what is repulsive, and worry requires the imaginative generation of scenarios that make one anxious. Through emotional imagination, beliefs are developed through giving weight to imaginative scenarios that generate further sets of higher order emotions. Emotional imagination operates at the unconscious and semi-unconscious level. Emotional imagination is one of the most powerful types of our imagination and can easily dominate our thinking processes.
7. Dreams are an unconscious form of imagination made up of images, ideas, emotions, and sensations that occur during certain stages of sleep. Dreams show that every concept in our mind has its own psychic associations and that ideas we deal with in everyday life are by no means as precise as we think. Our experiences become sublimed into our memory passing into the unconscious where the factual characteristics can change, and can be reacquired at any time. Some dreams are very straight forward, while others surreal, magical, melancholic, adventurous, and sexual where we are most of the time not in control.
8. Memory reconstruction is the process of retrieving our memory of people, objects, and events. Our memory is made up of prior knowledge consisting of a mix of truth and belief, influenced by emotion. Recurring memory therefore carries attitudes, values, and identity as most of our memory is within the "I" or "me" paradigm. Memory is also reconstructed to fit into our current view of the world, so is very selective.
Imaginative thinking provides the ability to move towards objectives, and travel along selected paths. Imaginative much more divergent than logical thought, as imagination can move freely across fields and disciplines, while logical thinking is orientated along a narrowly focused path. From this perspective imagination is probably more important than knowledge as knowledge without application is useless.
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