Have you ever used creative imagination to write published novel? Compose an executed piece of music? Draw, paint or design a purchased piece of visual art? Of course, to hear an original melody in your head you don’t need to be a musician, or an artist to visualize color and shape. You may have had a creative moment, including a perfect solo sprint, a probing pass, or a spectacular shot at goal from a nearly impossible angle on the sports field.

Creative imagination is an intriguing phenomenon in which something new and valuable in some way is formed. It means seeing possibilities that go beyond existing constraints. Often this moment of clarity is vivid, and can take the form of a grand vision, or a “seeing” of something that one has not seen before. Like Archimedes’ ‘eureka moment,’ when he saw a leap of understanding about the principle of displacement, he jumped from his bath.

Standard Artistic Creativity experience

In ordinary life, when we think “if only …” and something innovative is imagined or a new insight arises that sheds light on the worldly, we may spontaneously conjure up alternatives to truth. To come up with an original solution to every particular practical problem of daily life, an element of imagination is probably needed.

Someone may also be imaginative about what one says in day-to-day conversation, e.g. being funny, saying something resourceful to help others cope with difficulties, or being innovative to promote interest.

How then to account for creative imagination? Where does it come from?

Perspective of a humanist on creative imagination

The modern concept of human imagination started during the Renaissance, and became more prominent at the time of the Enlightenment as an intellectual movement. Creation began to be perceived as originating from the individual’s abilities, and not from God the Creator. Humanism was a leading force for the intellectual. This has been an intensely human-centered outlook on the world, valuing the individual’s intellect and achievement, a naturalistic way of thinking which is accompanied by scientific growth.

Normal processes within the brain

Scientists also believed artistic creativity was the same as divergent thought. Convergent thought involves searching for a single, right solution to a problem, while divergent thinking involves the development of several solutions to a given problem.

Divergent thinking is, according to the current science of cognitive psychology, the process of creative imagination involving the brain’s natural processes. These use functions such as memory, reasoning, visualization, association and so on. These take place in the background of our conscious mind.

Researchers usually believe that light or understanding is only induced by brain activities. The creative idea bursts out into conscious awareness from its precocious creation.

A View on Artistic Imagination

In fact, an alternative perspective is that creativity comes from something unknown beyond the human. Inspiring is breathing into that which gives life. Often we can find ourselves moved and stirred. But we don’t know where the spark originated. I believe I know the reason for that. They don’t believe in any invasion from a higher realm when people focus on worldly things.

A muse was often accepted by ancient Greeks as mediating inspiration from the gods. Later, Greeks and Romans revived the idea of an external imaginative “daemon” or “genius,” connected to the sacred or the divine.

Engagement and creative creativity

While inspiration is not the same as effort, effort is an essential condition for inspiration, which prepares the mind for an inspiring experience. Research also suggests creative imagination stems from open-mindedness to new experience.

This raises the question of whether creativity involves personal motivation to be open to a world of new possibility and act upon it. Arguably, if we bottle up good things that flow through us, then we cannot expect to receive more, first the good things need to flow into action through us, and the more that you put into something, the more that you get out. This motivation is different from pursuing your own agenda and wanting your own way or jumping to conclusions based on your own prejudices. Blocks to creativity thus include being judgmental and striving for self gain.

Kekule Discovery

So, many scientists today think of creative creativity as the product of just an interaction between one’s current knowledge and the world’s received information.

One example, said to illustrate this idea of creative imagination, is Kekule’s flash of enlightenment about the benzene molecule’s ring structure. The discovery made the chemistry of the aromatic compounds possible. When Kekule visualized rows of atoms moving in snake-like motion, he was dozing. One of the snakes chased his tail and took hold of it thereby forming a pattern.

Materialist theorists were searching for other interactions which may have played a part. Kekule had trained his visual perception in the field of architecture before becoming a chemist. They assumed he might have been in the morning zoo and may have watched some afternoon dance performance. It is these supposed chance coincidental encounters they believe led to his insight into the book.

Spirituality

We prefer to believe, according to mystic Emanuel Swedenborg, that each one of us is the originator of all that we think and want. He maintains, however, that a flow of ideas and impulses comes into our minds through a hidden realm of what he calls ‘the spiritual world’ consisting of various communities of people’s spirits who survive bodily death. The existence drives ideas and perceptions through our subjective consciousness.

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