What people do not want to imagine

by Ana Bazac

The problem expressed by the title has no simple psychological solution: like “people do not want to feel pain and thus do not want to transpose mentally into the minds of those who suffer”.

The truth of this solution is obvious: in order to keep one’s balance and thus, the will to live, the humans focus on their own – each of them on his own – concrete, both momentary and long-term goals and do not internalise until the deep psychological/ mental level the facts and phenomena which may disturb the fulfilment of those goals. We either consciously conceive the sufferings of others – and we feel sorrow in different degrees – or we are touched profoundly, our soul is hurt and its pain is heartbreaking, because we lost a dearest one. First, we can not “imagine” how to live without the lost unique person. But, experimenting in this bitter test the thoughts related to the feelings of the dearest lost when he suffered and saw his coming nearer to his extinction, we, at the same time know that we have to remove those thoughts from our consciousness and, with or without those thoughts, we are inconsolable; but we are, namely, we experience our feelings of pain and lack of consolation. It is not about – as the promoters of egotism say – the egoistic nature of man aiming only to individual satisfaction of ground impulsions, without care for the others beyond those without which these impulsions are not met; no, both those suffering after the loss of a dearest one and those caring and fighting for the life and dignity of unknown persons, even of the humankind/the entire species have more than root impulsions: and are unique complex conscious beings being both individuals and species beings, thus both material bodies depending on the matter, energy and  “physical information” exchange with the surrounding environment, including other humans, and bearers of the  multi-layer aura of consciousness and its creations. Certainly, as individuals, they want to live – au fond, the condition of the lasting of the species – and they know that the imagination of the sufferings of the lost person/persons does not help them to resist, but generate their powerlessness just when they have to help other people.

Therefore, imagination is an odd operation of the mind: it always refers to different persons and things than the subject who endeavours this operation; because one does not imagine how he/she feels in a moment or another: he/she simply feels. Obviously, because the human being is social/cultural being, he/she adds to the feelings images about the manners to feel, about the objects and persons related to the feelings, about variants of manners, objects and persons existent in the cultural world known to the subject: but all of these images refer to exterior things to his own person.

The human consciousness – as entire capacity to feel humanly and think and create new worlds of meanings – was called by the old Greeks (ψυχή) with a word akin with ησυχή/ησυχία meaning calmness, quietness, and also with σιγή, silence, quiet: therefore, a state without agitation or bustle. In order to develop the miracle of thinking and imaging, and putting human order in the contradictions of existence, the human consciousness must be calm, available and fresh. This is the reason of the human forgetfulness of tragic and bad events: as the memory of these events fades, so the imagination of tragic feelings is incapable to constitute in the mind of a person. Because: in order to act, the humans need only to know that other persons suffer, or that the cause is this or that.

 The past death of the dearest ones and the painful suffering of the human who remains/survives belong to a past fragment the life: the whole effort of his imagination is intended to the present and, why not?, to the future. The past hurts and thus every supplementary attempt to imagine it weakens its exuberant quest of life: thus, of the present and the future. Or, if the traumatic memory fails, it is possible to put the ability of remembrance to the service of the updated imagination[1].

Our balance is never for a simple passive living, using the milieu and fulfilling the daily routine in order to gain one more day. It is for an active problem solving within and of the entire human environment we are part of. Our balance is ours only if we are responsible for it; otherwise, it is an amorphous datum, as if it were an inorganic temporary fact. When we are responsible for our psychological balance, we use it or erect on it a new world of human meanings and actions. For this reason, the atrocious pain related to the past is not accompanied by our imagination of the feelings of those passed away: our pain no needs this imagination, it would not be bigger with this imagination and it is no less without it. Our imagination is back with the present: and future.

Only in this manner is the human resilience not a simple elasticity of the human psyche, a springing back into the former shape: since man is the result of the ensemble of social relations, integrated through direct and indirect experiences, resilience means more than to recover quickly, it is the ability to bounce beyond the old shape, to jump into and face new and active experiences; only in this way it is (a new) coping. Obviously, sometimes some ones want to not change the former calmness – and many people are taught to behave in such a manner – but since the balance is also the ground for human development, it’s doubtful that the fixity of passive routine will generate this development.

Resilience is not human “invulnerability” (this one does not exist), it is only psychical power to surpass traumas and bad experiences. However, only through this power has the human species the feature of – let’s be precious – ἀφθαρσία/aphtharsia, “immortality” or imperishability.


Everything is imagination, i.e. every thought and phrase bases itself on/is the result of the images configured in our minds. But not this peculiarity of the human logos is important here. But: at what extent we do choose the images and direct our imagination according to which goals.

Therefore, imagination should be treated – besides as a psychological vector – also as an epistemological tool: and, here in this paper, not as an internal structural process of the mind, but as a process controlled by humans (by their volition and according to their goals and values).

Generally, this aspect was tackled from the standpoint of positive/existent/desirable imagination and images: for example, how fructuous were the images of natural phenomena – and viewed from novel points – and how the human significances have directed the imagination and have resulted from it[2]. This imagination and these images have been evaluated as inherent choice in the intentional focus of the consciousness[3], and they became in this way the result of the humans’ responsibility, since these ones discern between facts and their significances. In this spirit has Sartre insisted on the “ontological dignity” of imagination and its active – and no longer passive – role in the human knowledge[4]. And this position of imagination has strengthened from Sartre and Merleau-Ponty to Bachelard[5].

Clearer, the constructive role of imagination has been proved both in the absence of the objects, as already now classical epistemic projections (at the first two thinkers), and in the day-dreams where the poetical spirit makes these projections special (at Bachelard). This complex constructive role is positive – it offers images as criteria and poles for humans – irrespective of how it develops towards the “beyond” not only the existent images but also the tensions between the subject and the (many kinds of) object. In other words, the “beyond” exists: in different kinds of objects (as the virtual ones). People want the mental “possession” of all of these objects created by their imagination.


A different situation occurs when the humans do not want to imagine: moreover, some things.

First, here is no oblivion: just because people know the meanings which they want to remove from them: or, at least, one meaning that embarrasses and agitates them. This evaluation of the significance of things – and in imagination we do not consider the clichés of things but the things themselves (obviously, the images are mixed etc. in our minds, but once more, we aim the things these images represent/signal) – is an essential moment in the process of knowledge: before the intention directed toward a thing, and during the deployment and development of knowing. The evaluation is the result of – and the sign of – the awareness of things.

Dryly: we cannot say that we did not know the facts we want not imagine; we knew them – at least, that meaning that troubled us – because when we became aware of them we chose to erase them from the field of our consciousness.

 Averroes spoke about a “material intellect” storing the images of things people encounter. He supposed that people choose from the   “material” “store” of images, those corresponding to the facts they encounter or are related to them as the creators or participants.

But by refusing to imagine – therefore, to select the cognisance and images related to some facts – the humans from the present last stage of capitalism blow and jolt “the store of images”, i.e. a main part of the “world 3”’s wealth.

Why and when do these humans refuse to imagine? We can mention at least two – interrelated – aspects. And we do not repeat the psychological explanation mentioned in the first part of this paper. But we draw attention on a social explanation.

Since imagination is essential for the humans’ decisions to act, the loss of the dearest ones must not be accompanied by the imagination of their feelings in front of their own death in order the surviving person to act. But when he does not imagine the tragic or bad or only unpleasant situations of the others, at both individual and group scale (and even huge groups’ scale), he does not bother with the alleviation of those situations at all. Certainly, there is no need to imagine: one knows by analogy, i.e. one supposes what those situations mean for those persons. But at the origin of (this) knowledge is just imagination: not necessarily about what would happen if he himself were in such a situation, but just about those situations as such. Imagination draws attention on facts, it is that which supports their awareness by humans.

People are educated by the entire ideological mechanism of (not only the present) capitalism to focus only on the personal problems and milieu and to not bother with general social problems. The official information about these problems and the suffering of others in wars and inhuman conditions is scarce, diverted and drowned in an ocean of lies and multi-layer trivialisation: consequently, the moment of imagination and, only on this basis, of reflection and knowledge lacks. The result is that the others’ social sufferings are both trivial and inexistent for the consciousness of these people.

Schopenhauer has considered compassion as the first human virtue and origin of humaneness. Compassion means both the recognition of the others as humans and the mental mutual substitution between the subject and the others. But when there is no imagination, these two mental operations lack.

Therefore: the humans imagine something external to their persons, and the human imagination was treated only from the standpoint of its epistemic and psychic functions, accordingly presuming that the imaginative act exists. But the human persons are social and thus every human person depends also on the imagination of other persons. The problem put here is then just the lack of the specific imagination of sufferings of other people. What happens thereat to these people? And why don’t some people imagine the suffering of others?

Well, “the other people” suffer and, in order to put an end to the social suffering all humans have to be aware of it: first, they have to imagine what do these social sufferings mean. While the ultimate cause of the lack of  this type of imagination and sensitivity is the structure of domination relations.

These relations tend to remove the socially caused sufferings from the objects of imagination. The model of this process concerns the subject of imagination: the common people are made disabled to imagine because they, as the subject of the imaginative act, are substituted with the dominant subject that imagines in their place. Here it is about a direct relation between subjects: some ones are deprived of the capacity to imagine the sufferings of the others because other subjects forbid this capacity (by giving them false objects of imagination).

But there is also another model, of indirect relations between subjects: through the means of IT. The superficial critique – induced by the power relations – is that IT is guilty because it imagines instead of letting people to imagine what they want. But the fact that the image of the world is simplified by the present IT, that people become dependent exclusively on the images given by IT, is not the result of the inexistent will of IT. The present information and communication technology is controlled by the same dominant subjects.


The lack of imagination beyond the narrow circle of the individual self is an illness, a severe handicap. It touches even the reasonability of people, because without imagination one cannot make thought experiments, cannot develop causal reasoning, cannot comprise time and space in their dimensions beyond the individual’s interest. The interest and sensitivity towards other humans and humankind once more proves to be sine qua non for both the human individual and the human special.



[1] (Sous la direction de Boris Cyrulnik & Claude Seron), La Résilience ou comment renaître de sa souffrance?, Paris, Éditions Fabert, 2003.

[2] See Gaston Bachelard: La psychanalyse du feu (1938), Paris, Gallimard, 1949 ; L’eau et les rêves. Essai sur l’imagination de la matière, Paris, José Corti, 1942 ; L’air et les songes. Essai sur l’imagination du mouvement, Paris, José Corti, 1943 ; La terre et les rêveries du repos, Paris, José Corti, 1946 ; La terre et les rêveries de la volonté, Paris, José Corti, 1948 ; La poétique de l’espace, Paris, PUF, 1958 ; La poétique de la rêverie (1960), Paris, PUF, 1999 ; La flamme d’une chandelle, Paris, PUF, 1961.

[3] Just phenomenology helping the modern thinking to understand the intentional mechanism of the consciousness.

[4] Jean-Paul Sartre, L’imagination, Paris, F. Alcan 1936.

[5] Ana Bazac, “Sur l’imagination chez Merleau-Ponty et Bachelard”, Analele Universităţii din Craiova, Seria Filosofie, nr. 22 (2/2008), pp. 19-48.

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