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On Imagination...


What is the imagination? We treat it like a thing, or perhaps a switch in our brains that turns on the idea engine. Whatever it is, it is certainly useful, which is a shame because most people keep theirs firmly switched off, with a big red ‘do not touch’ sign on it.

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being creative, children, discovery, genius, illumination, inspiration, innovation, leaping, thinking


‘Having imagination, it takes you an hour to write a paragraph that, if you were unimaginative, would take you only a minute.’

Franklin P. Adams

‘The man who has no imagination has no wings.’

Muhammad Ali

‘Imagination is the highest kite that one can fly.’

Lauren Bacall

‘Imagination was given to man to compensate for what he is not; a sense of humour to console him for what he is.’

Francis Bacon

‘It is often said that men are ruled by their imaginations; but it would be truer to say they are governed by the weakness of their imaginations.’

Walter Bagehot

‘Imagination is the air in the mind.’

Philip James Bailey

‘The sorcery and charm of imagination, and the power it gives to the individual to transform his world into a new world of order and delight, makes it one of the most treasured of all human capacities.’

Frank Barron

‘I change many things, discard others, and try again and again until I am satisfied; then, in my head, I being to elaborate the work in its breadth, its narrowness, its height, its depth…I hear and see the image in front of me from every angle as if it had been cast and only the labour of writing it down remains.’

Ludwig van Beethoven

‘Take only your imagination seriously.’

Thomas Berger

‘There are lots of people who mistake their imagination for their memory.’

Josh Billings

‘What is now proved was once only imagin’d.’

William Blake

‘The human race is governed by its imagination.’

Napoleon Boneparte

‘Imagination rules the world.’

Napoleon Boneparte

‘A great wind is blowing and that gives you either imagination or a headache.’

Catherine the Great

‘There are no rules of architecture for a castle in the clouds.’

G. K. Chesterton

‘You create your own universe as you go along. The stronger your imagination, the more variegated your universe. When you leave off dreaming, the universe ceases to exist.’

Winston Churchill

‘The primary imagination I hold to be the living power and prime agent of all human perception, and as a repetition in the finite mind of the eternal act of creation in the infinite I Am.’

Samuel Taylor Coleridge

‘Imagination is the living power and prime agent of all human perception.’

Samuel Taylor Coleridge

‘The great successful men of the world have used their imagination ...they think ahead and create their mental picture, and then go to work materializing that picture in all its details, filling in here, adding a little there, altering this a bit and that a bit, but steadily building, steadily building.’

Robert Collier

‘Only in man’s imagination does every truth find an effective and undeniable existence. Imagination, not invention, is the supreme master of art as of life.’

Joseph Conrad

‘When the will and the imagination are in conflict, it is the imagination that always wins.’

Émille Coué

‘Live out of your imagination, not your history.’

Steven Covey

‘Every human has four endowments: self awareness, conscience, independent will and creative imagination. These give us the ultimate human freedom — The power to choose, to respond, to change.’

Steven Covey

‘Whatever exists in the universe, whether in essence, in act, or in the imagination, the painter has first in his mind and then in his hands.’

Leonardo Da Vinci

‘The faculty of imagination is both the rudder and the bridle of the senses.’

Leonardo Da Vinci

‘It is no small benefit on finding oneself in bed in the dark to go over again in the imagination the main lines of the forms previously studied, or other noteworthy things conceived by ingenious speculation.’

Leonardo Da Vinci

‘The source of genius is imagination alone.’

Eugene Delacroix

‘Every great advance in science has issued from a new audacity of the imagination.’

John Dewey

‘An idea is a method of evading, circumventing or surmounting through reflection, obstacles that otherwise would have to be attacked by brute force.’

John Dewey

‘The Possible's slow fuse is lit
By the Imagination.’

Emily Dickinson

Impossibility is only the figment of an insufficient imagination.’

Phil Duncan

‘To invent, you need a good imagination and a pile of junk.’

Thomas Alva Edison

Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.’

Albert Einstein

‘The history of scientific and technical discovery teaches us that the human race is poor in independent and creative imagination.’

Albert Einstein

‘I am enough of an artist to draw freely upon my imagination.’

Albert Einstein

‘Imagination is more important than knowledge.’

Albert Einstein

‘Logic will get you from A to B, Imagination will take you everywhere.’

Albert Einstein

‘The gift of fantasy has meant more to me than my talent for absorbing positive knowledge.’

Albert Einstein

‘To raise new questions, new possibilities, to regard old problems from a new angle, requires creative imagination and marks real advance in science.’

Albert Einstein

‘Imagination is not a talent of some men but is the health of every man.’

Ralph Waldo Emerson

‘Imagination is a poor substitute for experience.’

Havelock Ellis

‘When I examine myself and my methods of thought, I come to the conclusion that the gift of fantasy has meant more to me than my talent for absorbing positive knowledge.’

Albert Einstein

‘Things are pretty, graceful, rich, elegant, handsome, but until they speak to the imagination, not yet beautiful.’

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Science does not know its debt to imagination.’

Ralph Waldo Emerson

‘Imagination is not a talent of some men but is the health of every man.’

Ralph Waldo Emerson

‘The quality of the imagination is to flow and not to freeze.’

Ralph Waldo Emerson

‘A feeble man can see the farms that are fenced and tilled, the houses that are built. The strong man sees the possible houses and farms. His eye makes estates as fast as the sun breeds clouds.’

Ralph Waldo Emerson

‘To know is nothing at all; to imagine is everything.’

Anatole France

‘Microsoft is a company that manages imagination.’

Bill Gates

‘Imagination is the one weapon in the war against reality.’

Jules de Gaultier

‘Reason can answer questions, but imagination has to ask them.’

Ralph Gerard

‘One can be instructed in society, one is inspired only in solitude.’

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

‘Few people have the imagination for reality.’

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

‘There is nothing more fearful than imagination without taste.’

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

‘The problem is not one of prediction. It is one of imagination.’

Gary Hamel

‘The great requisite for the prosperous management of ordinary business is the want of imagination.’

William Hazlitt

‘ almost always simply a lack of ability to suspend the functioning of the imagination.’

Ernest Hemingway

‘For after the subject is removed or the eye shut, we still retain an image of the things seen, though more obscure than when we see it…Imagination, therefore, is nothing more than decaying sense.’

Thomas Hobbes

‘Were it not for imagination, Sir, a man would be as happy in the arms of a chambermaid as of a Duchess.’

Samuel Johnson

‘He who has imagination without learning has wings but no feet.’

Joseph Joubert

‘Imagination is the eye of the soul.’

Joseph Joubert

‘Without this playing with fantasy, no creative work has ever yet come to birth. The debt we owe to the play of the imagination is incalculable.’

Carl Gustav Jung

‘The world is wonderful and beautiful and good beyond one's wildest imagination.’

D. H. Lawrence

‘For me, reason is the natural organ of truth; but imagination is the organ of meaning. Imagination, producing new metaphors or revivifying old, is not the cause of truth, but its condition.’

C. S. Lewis

‘What I tend to do is to wake about five in the morning—this happens quite often—think about the invention, and then image it in my mind in 3D, as a kind of construct. Then I do experiments with the image…sort of rotate it, and say, ‘Well what’ll happen if one does this?’ And by the time I get up for breakfast I can usually go to the bench and make a string and sealing wax model that works straight off, because I’ve done most of the experiments already.’

James Lovelock

‘Imagination is a powerful agent for creating, as it were, a second nature out of the material supplied to it by actual nature.’

Immanuel Kant

‘I am certain of nothing but the holiness of the heart’s affections and the truth of imagination.’

John Keats

‘Our imagination is the only limit to what we can hope to have in the future.’

Charles F. Kettering

‘What feeling, knowledge or will man has depends in the last resort upon what imagination he has.’

Søren Kierkegaard

‘I am beginning to think of the human imagination as a fruit machine on which victories are rare and separated by much vain expense, and represent a rare alignment of mental and spiritual qualities that normally are quite at odds.’

Philip Larkin

‘My imagination makes me human and makes me a fool; it gives me all the world and exiles me from it.’

Ursula LeGuin

‘I doubt that the imagination can be suppressed. If you truly eradicated it in a child, he would grow up to be an eggplant.’

Ursula Le Guin

‘Never before has the gap between what we can imagine and what we can accomplish been smaller.’

Gary Hamel

‘For every person who can imagine a possibility there are tens of thousands who are stuck in the greased grooves of history.’

Gary Hamel

‘Nothing is more dangerous to reason than the flights of the imagination and nothing has been the occasion of more mistakes among philosophers.’

David Hume

‘Reality leaves a lot to the imagination.’

John Lennon

‘No one ever made a great discovery without the exercise of the imagination.’

George Henry Lewes

‘You can’t do it unless you imagine it.’

George Lucas

‘Man's body is faulty, his mind untrustworthy, but his imagination has made him remarkable.’

John Masefield

‘Imagination was given to us to compensate for what we are not; a sense of humor was given to us to console us for what we are.’

Mack McGinnis

‘Imagination is the voice of daring. If there is anything Godlike about God it is that. He dared to imagine everything.’

Henry Miller

‘An enchanted life has many moments when the heart is overwhelmed with beauty and the imagination is electrified by some haunting quality in the world or by a spirit or voice speaking from deep within a thing, a place, or a person.’

Thomas Moore

‘The thickets and swamps that hinder creativity were planted carelessly by other people, then relentlessly grew in the fertile soil of the imagination.’

David Morgan

‘Imagination is reality.’

David Morgan

‘The whole, though it be long, stands almost complete and finished in my mind, so that I can survey it, like a fine picture or a beautiful statue at a glance. Nor do I hear in my imagination the parts successively, I hear them all at once. What a delight this is! All this inventing, this producing, takes place in a pleasing, lively dream.’

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

‘The power of imagination makes us infinite.’

John Muir

‘A prison is never narrow when the imagination can range in it as it will.’

Marguerite of Navarre

‘The disclosure of a new fact, the leap forward, the conquest over yesterday’s ignorance, is an act not of reason but of imagination, of intuition.’

Charles Nicolle

‘Imagination is the cornerstone of human endeavor.’

Alex Osborn

‘Imagination is vital to precautionary judgement.’

Alex Osborn

Creativity is more than mere imagination. It is imagination inseparably coupled with both intent and effort.’

Alex Osborn

‘Imagination is essential and it comes first, for without imagination we are aimless.’

Cyril Northcote Parkinson

‘Imagination is the deceptive part in man, the mistress of error and falsehood.’

Blaise Pascal

‘Imagination disposes of everything; it creates beauty, justice and happiness, which are everything in this world.’

Blaise Pascal

‘I don’t know what it means to manage the human imagination, but I do know that imagination is the main source of value in the new economy. And I know we’d better figure out the answer to my question—quick.’

Tom Peters

‘Everything you can imagine is real.’

Pablo Picasso

‘It will be found, in fact, that the ingenious are always fanciful, and the truly imaginative never otherwise than analytic.’

Edgar Allen Poe

‘The man who cannot occasionally imagine events and conditions of existence that are contrary to the causal principle as he knows it will never enrich his science by the addition of a new idea.’

Max Planck

‘Often it is just lack of imagination that keeps a man from suffering very much.’

Marcel Proust

‘Those people who recognize that the imagination is reality’s master we call sages, and those who act upon it we call artists or lunatics.’

Tom Robbins

‘The true function of applied to matters of experience, analytic rather than constructive; taken a priori, it shows the possibility of hitherto unsuspected alternatives more often than the impossibility of alternatives which seemed prima facie possible. Thus, while it liberates imagination as to what the world may be, it refuses to legislate as to what the world is.’

Bertrand Russell

‘The conception of the necessary unit of all that is resolves itself into the poverty of the imagination, and a freer logic emancipates us from the straitwaistcoated benevolent institution, which idealism palms off as the totality of being.’

Bertrand Russell

‘Great imaginations are apt to work from hints and suggestions, and a single moment of emotion is sometimes sufficient to create a masterpiece.’

Margaret Sackville

‘Imagination will often carry us to worlds that never were. But without it we go nowhere.’

Carl Sagan

‘I have imagination, and nothing that is real is alien to me.’

George Santayana

‘The reason for you complaint lies, it seems to me, in the constraint which your intellect imposes upon your imagination. Here I will make an observation, and illustrate it by an allegory. Apparently, it is not good–and indeed it hinders the creative work of the mind–if the if the intellect examines too closely the ideas pouring in, as it were, at the gates.’

Friedrich von Schiller

‘A man to carry on a successful business must have imagination. He must see things in a vision, a dream of the whole thing.’

Charles M. Schwab

‘Imagination is the beginning of creation. You imagine what you desire, you will what you imagine, and at last you create what you will.’

George Bernard Shaw

‘Reason respects differences, and imagination the similitudes of things.’

Percy Bysse Shelley

‘Imagination grows by exercise, and contrary to common belief, is more powerful in the mature than in the young.’

W. Somerset Maugham

‘And as imagination bodies forth the forms of things unknown, the poet’s pen turns them into shapes and gives to airy nothing a local habitation and a name.’

William Shakespeare

‘The lunatic, the lover, and the poet, are of imagination all compact.’

William Shakespeare

‘We imagine what we desire; we will what we imagine; and at last we create what we will.’

George Bernard Shaw

‘Skill without imagination is craftsmanship and gives us many objects such as wickerwork picnic baskets. Imagination without skill gives us modern art.’

Tom Stoppard

‘Your knowledge has limits but your imagination does not.’

Geraint Straker

‘When I get an idea I start at once building it up in my imagination. I change the construction, make improvements and operate the device in my mind. It is absolutely immaterial to me whether I run my turbine in my thought or test it in my shop. I even note if it is out of balance.’

Nikola Tesla

‘The world is but a canvas to the imagination.’

Henry David Thoreau

‘It is the marriage of the soul with Nature that makes the intellect fruitful, and gives birth to imagination.’

Henry David Thoreau

‘You cannot depend on your judgment when your imagination is out of focus.’

Mark Twain

‘Serious-minded people have few ideas. People with ideas are never serious.’

Paul Valéry

‘Whatever one man is capable of imagining, other men will prove themselves capable of realizing.’

Jules Verne

‘Do not quench you inspiration and your imagination; do not become the slave of your model.’

Vincent Van Gogh

‘There is an astonishing imagination, even in the science of mathematics.’


‘Imagination and fiction make up more than three quarters of our real life.’

Simone Weil

‘Imagination is not to be divorced from the facts. It is a way of illuminating the facts.’

Alfred North Whitehead

‘The tragedy of the world is that those who are imaginative have but slight experience, and those who are experienced have feeble imaginations.’

Alfred North Whitehead

‘The imagination imitates. It is the critical spirit that creates.’

Oscar Wilde

Consistency is the last refuge of the unimaginative.’

Oscar Wilde

‘Imagination is the means of deep insight and sympathy, the power to conceive and express images removed from normal objective reality.’

William Wordsworth

‘An idea is salvation by imagination.’

Frank Lloyd Wright

‘By logic and reason we die hourly; by imagination we live.’

William Butler Yeats



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