the effort of imagination

Posted: May 27, 2008 in Uncategorized
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You tend to think of imagination as ethereal, airy, effortless like day-dreaming. So I am always surprised when I visualise, say, a book or deliberately create a scene in my imagination, that it is far from effortless. It’s work and I feel exhausted by the effort. What is going on? Why does it feel like that?

Why is one type of imagination – dreaming, day-dreaming, mind-wandering – so weightless, and the other strenuous? The brain uses a hugely disproportionate amount of the body’s oxygen and energy. What is this brainwork?

The best way I can understand it is to imagine a cart on a bumpy surface. If the wheels get caught in a rut where previous carts have gone before, then there’s very little effort to keep it on that patth, and gravity will help out. But every effort to direct it along new lines that you choose, amking a new path, takes energy, will, concentration.

Someone compared the relation of reason to emotion to that of a small man riding an elephant. If you can get the elephant to go your way, you’re unstoppable, but to get it to go where it doesn’t want to, you’ve got a real job on your hands.

So when you are day-dreaming, the elephant is wandering where it will. You may, as rartional creative driver, notice this is a good route or good up to this point before it veers off…

ironically, as I wrote that, my attention wandered all over the place. I can’t even track it: future-past-future-present-past, round the houses, of course there was sex involved. That’s the wandering elephant for you. But the effort of getting it back on track! 

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