Imagination, a process of thought by which past experiences are rearranged to form a new mental image. Simple memory is not imagination. For example, a person may remember a tennis game and the joy of winning it. If this memory is then used as a stimulus for realizing how happy he or she would be to win a championship tournament, the person is imagining.
Generally speaking, there are two kinds of imagination: passive and constructive. The person who daydreams of winning a tennis match is experiencing passive imagination. If, however, the memory of past games is used to work out new techniques for successful playing, the player is employing constructive, or creative, imagination. Dreams experienced while sleeping are usually passive in nature, but some individuals have dreams that lead them to solutions of problems, or to the production of works of art.
It is probable that all human beings are capable of some kinds of constructive imagination. A cook employs such imagination when creating a new dish by combining familiar ingredients in a new way. But the kind of creative imagination that produces a scientific breakthrough, a poem, or a symphony is relatively rare.
Consciously recalled experiences are not the only ones used in imagining. Unconscious memories and emotions combine as a powerful force in forming new concepts. Because the individual is not always aware of this force, a new image or idea may seem to come to mind as an inspiration from an outside source.
Educators believe that constructive imagination can be stimulated by giving children rich and meaningful experiences. Some of these experiences may come from books and classroom activities. Other stimulating experiences are constructive play; suitable tasks; tours of such places as museums, offices, and factories; and guided walks through city streets or country paths.
Small children often confuse memories of real experiences with imagined experiences, and relate imaginary events as if they were facts. Such stories are not to be considered as lies, and the normal child very early comes to an understanding of the difference between reality and imagination.