Short definitions of imagination by Roberto Assagioli, one of the psychological functions of psychosynthesis:
“Imagination is a function which in itself is to some extent synthetic, since imagination can operate at several levels concurrently: those of sensation, feeling, thinking and intuition. In one sense it is a cross-section of these four functions, or rather a combination in various proportions of them. It includes till the various types of imagination, such as visualization—the evocation of visual images— auditory imagination, tactile, kinesthetic imagination and so on.
The imagination, in the precise sense of the function of evoking and creating images, is one of the most important and spontaneously active functions of the human psyche, both in its conscious and in its unconscious aspects or levels. Therefore it is one of the functions which has to be controlled when excessive or dispersed; to be trained when weak, and to be utilized owing to its great potency. This explains why in psychosynthetic therapy we are particularly interested in the regulation, development and utilization of imagination, since the practice of the technique of imagination is one of the best ways towards a synthesis of the different functions. (Psychosynthesis, p. 143)
That the imagination has a close relationship with the intuition is evidenced by the fact that intuitions often do not present themselves to the consciousness in an abstract, simple and “pure” way, but rather in the guise of images. This entails a primary task of distinguishing the content, the essence, the idea inherent in an intuition from the form, the vestments, so to speak, which it assumes. The character of the form being symbolic, the complex and important question of symbolism arises. As I have dealt with this elsewhere (1) I shall limit myself here to emphasizing the twofold and, in a certain sense, contrasting nature and function of the symbol. It can both veil and reveal. When mistaken for the reality that it expresses, it veils it and is thus a source of illusion. When recognized for what it is, a means of expression, it constitutes a useful and at times indispensable aid to “catching” and then illuminating a transcendental reality.
Independently of its cognitive function as a means and vehicle of the intuition, the imagination displays several other and different aspects. There is first of all simple reproductive imagination, that is, the vehicle of memory-pictures of sensations and impressions already experienced (mnemonic images). While the visual is the most frequent of these, memory images of other sense-mediated impressions abound, the most important being the aural. Latent and stored in what may be termed the “records of the unconscious”, they can surface spontaneously into consciousness, or be re-evoked by the will. The capacity to store and recall images is immense, one might say practically unlimited. Under certain conditions (hypnotic and feverish states) detailed memories of events occurring in early childhood can rise to the surface of consciousness. There are, again, the prodigies of memory exhibited by some great orchestral conductors (notably Toscanini) whose ability to remember entire symphonies and operas enabled them to conduct a work without reference to the score. Equally surprising is the way some advanced chess players can visualize the positions and moves of the pieces and play a number of simultaneous games without seeing the boards. Then there is creative imagination: its great importance is insufficiently recognized and its power little utilized, especially in education. As I shall be enlarging on this later when dealing with creativity, I wish at this point simply to make a passing reference to dreams, which are a mixed product of the two types of imagination: reproductive and creative. From Transpersonal Inspiration
“Symbols can be regarded as images or pictures expressing, or hiding, either some general or abstract idea, or some meaningful condition and situation. The psychological function that gives expression to a meaning through images and symbolic picture is the imagination; and this important function is active in us almost continuously, not only when we are awake but also during sleep through dreaming. Because this relating and expressive function is thus creative, it is accurate to speak of “creative imagination.” Such creative imagination precedes all creative expression.” From Creative Expression