What does it mean to imagine?

Imagine your life in 5 years from now…

What does it mean to answer this question?

It’s a difficult one I’ve been wrestling with.

I can think of different ways in which my life might evolve over the next 5 years. I have dreams and ambitions; I can make reasonable projections about what might unfold, and things that might be true in the 5 years to come.

But is that really the meaning of the question?

The root word of imagine is “image”.

I wonder if that’s what the word means, literally? If that’s the intent?

There are many different perspectives on this we can read in academic journals, handbooks and other writings.

On one hand, it’s tempting to boil it down to the simplest, most straightforward definition: to imagine is to experience images not present to the senses.

On the other hand, it seems wrong to say that I can’t imagine.

But just because it seems wrong doesn’t mean it isn’t true. For all the things we traditionally associate with imagination can be explained with other terms.

Ie. Imagination does not equal creativity; of course aphants can be very creative.

We can deduce, represent and conceptualize ideas and concepts. Those concepts can be tangible or abstract; past, present or future.

They can be applied creatively, to produce outcomes that seem like we’re very imaginative. That is, we can play the language game of imagination because we can achieve similar real-world outcomes.

But, when we say someone has a vivid imagination, aren’t we saying they conjure fantasies outside of reality?

The more I think about it, the more I’m convinced the intent of the word imagine is to do something that’s impossible for an aphant. For example, I can’t imagine what I will look like in 5 years, or in 20.

Margherita Arcangeli, an imagination researcher and author of several books… Disagrees, and we’ll be discussing that live in our members-only interview and discussion tomorrow morning.

But what do you think? What does imagination mean to you?