Many are still unaware of the uniquely human ability to think and that imagination is the most refined faculty possessed by man. The link between the two is what leads to innovation and invention.
HUMAN creativity, whether exemplified as invention or innovation, is essentially about new ideas and has a large role in thinking.
What many Muslims of today have been unaware of – but which a number of past Muslim scholars such as ibn Sina and al-Ghazzali have elaborated on – is the close relation that exists between thinking as a peculiarly human faculty and imagination as the most refined faculty possessed by man.
To the aforementioned scholars, acts of human imaginative faculty (al-quwwah al-mutakhayyilah) are mainly of three types.
The first consists of its associating (or composition) as well as dissociating (or decomposition) of various images and meanings that are already in one’s memory.
One is thereby able to “create” numerous imaginary objects and events such as unicorn, fiction and fairy tales, and the like.
The second type comprises resembling and likening, resulting in various kinds of symbolism.
Hence, when one’s intelligence divides something into branches, one’s imagination likens such a portioning to the branches of a tree, or when something is ordered in different degrees, one’s imagination likens such a hierarchy to a ladder-like structure.
The third type pertains to mediacy in human recollection such that something which one has forgotten becomes recollected.
Such is the case because one’s imagination, being by nature active, keeps scrutinising the many images (or forms) preserved in one’s memory, moving from one form to another one, until it comes across that form by means of which one’s mind comes to remember a forgotten meaning.
The relation of that form to the arrival of the meaning which is associated with it is like the relation, as discussed in formal logic, of the middle term of a syllogism to its conclusion; for through its presence, one is prepared to receive the conclusion.
In fact, the aforementioned is precisely what mnemonics and mind-mapping as refined memorisation techniques and devices have capitalised on.
Yet, one may still wonder, how does imagination relate to thinking?
Thinking, as we had explained on several occasions before, was considered by such scholars to be “the mental act of (1) arranging into correct and meaningful order, (2) what one has already known in order to, (3) attain what one is still ignorant of”.
It is clear that there are three central and constitutive elements embedded in such a perspective.
One such constituent, indicated by (1) above, obviously relates to the way one mentally organises those units of knowledge which one is currently attending to, resulting thus in certain patterns or arrangements in one’s mind.
It is the manner one relates one unit with another unit, or a group of other units of knowledge, in order to prepare one’s mind to be inspired with new units of knowledge.
It concerns the numerous active compositions (or associations) as well as decompositions (or dissociations) of such units in one’s mind.
This constituent of thinking is hence considered to be the “form”, or “structure”, of thinking, which is actually the dimension of thinking that formal logic as a discipline of study is singularly concerned with.
In fact, it is in this structure-forming act of the mind that one easily finds the defining role of human imagination.
So instrumental is imagination to thinking that it has also been termed “cogitative faculty” (al-quwwah al-mutafakkirah, or al-quwwah al-mufakkirah).
In other words, cogitation as a mental act is carried out with the assistance of the imagination, in the course of intuiting more composite and higher cognitions and intelligibles.
In this particular performance of the intellect, the imagination is used to acquire the middle term of a syllogism by means of its associating and dissociating of the units of knowledge one has already had.
The intellect, by God’s leave, will then intuit the conclusion of such a syllogistic composition.
This logico-intellectual operation of the human mind actually multiplies as one progresses in knowledge.
As such, and given the prevalent tendency among today’s pundits of creativity to assign imagination a pivotal role in invention and innovation, that there be close connection between imagination and thinking as recognised by such Muslim luminaries of the past and as herein outlined is particularly significant.
Dr Mohd Zaidi Ismail is Senior Fellow/Director at Ikim’s Centre for Science and Environment Studies. The STAR Online Home News Opinion IKIM Views 11/06/2013