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Ribot, Th. (Théodule) / Essay on the Creative Imagination
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| Obvious typographical errors have been corrected in |
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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 rle 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
rles 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 rle 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 rle of imagination.--How myths are formed. The moment
of creation: two operations--animating everything,
qualifying everything. Romantic invention lacking in peoples
without imagination. The rle 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 rle 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 rle 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,
cordination, 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 cordinate
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 rle 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.

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