Isn’t it odd that toddlers enjoy pretense, and that children and adults are moved by stories, that we have feelings about characters and events that we know do not exist?
This is a questioned posed by Paul Bloom, a professor of psychology at Yale University, in his article The Pleasures of Imagination.
Why is it that many of us are easily moved by fictional character or events? Why is it that many people would prefer to watch the television show Friends rather than go out with their real friends? How do imagined stories keep our attention?
It’s because imagination is just as real as reality. Okay, not completely real, but there’s a science to it.
Bloom explains in his article:
Our minds are partially indifferent to the contrast between events that we believe to be real versus those that seem to be real, or that are imagined to be real. This extends naturally to the pleasures of the imagination… Those who like observing clever people interact in the real world will get the same pleasure observing actors pretend to be such people on television. Imagination is Reality Lite – a useful substitute when the real pleasure is inaccessible, too risky, or too much work.
So your imagination empowers you to experience a reality that is not quite real, but is real enough for you to react to. Imagination can cause you pleasure, despite the artificial experience causing it.
Imagine, for example, standing on a glass floor above the grand canyon. You would be perfectly safe ‒ knowingly so ‒ but your imagination is likely going to cause you to tremble in fear of falling.
Imagination is compelling because it allows us to create more of an exciting or enticing life. As Clive James said: “Fiction is life with the dull bits left out.”
Knowing that imagination is so powerful ‒ powerful enough to make you cry when a loved character dies in a movie, or to make you smile when the protagonist in your favorite novel departs into the sunset ‒ what can you do with your imagination to build your creativity?
Be sure to read Bloom’s full article (it’s long, but trust me: well worth the read) and then imagine yourself being creative today. Who knows where imagining a truly creative day could take you.