Is Imagination the Same as Reality?
Are our imaginations real? Like what we perceive (see or hear) through our eyes and ears or what we feel through touch. How is our imagination related to our perceived reality if it is not real?
From a neurological perspective, both perceived reality and imagination seem to be equally the same. They both happen as a result of neurons firing in our brain; they both are the results of brain processes for information retrieval and image creation and any other processes that might be involved. The only apparent difference, from the neurological standpoint, seems to be about the process input. One uses the live stream of incoming information from sensory organs, and the other uses available coded information in the brain.
However, this is not the only difference; According to Dr. Ian McGilchrist, reality has a betweenness characteristic, which means that it occurs due to the interaction between two things. The same object/thing can take on different meanings and reality based on the observer’s (the other thing) perspective. In the Master and His Emissary book, McGilchrist gives an excellent example to explain this concept. A corpse has a different meaning for you, a corner, or the state’s forensics investigator. They all see the corpse a bit differently from the other. Thus, the corpse’s reality is being created in its interaction with its observers as much as the reality of the observers is being made in their interaction with the corpse.
Thus, imagination and perceived reality also differ in the quality of their betweenness. The perceived reality that occurs as a result of a live stream of sensory information has a kind of betweenness that does not exist in the imagination. This betweenness depends on an object other than itself, while imagination betweenness is independent of any external object to the extent that the external object may not be present to sensory organs at the time of imagination or it may now demonstrate the imagined behavior. Imagination is the result of the divided mind; it is the product of the interaction between two conceptual entities within our minds. So its betweenness is mostly internal, contained within itself; consequently, it can take any possible shape and form as opposed to the perceived reality that is limited by the objectivity of the external things.
Thus, in its howness, imagination is not the same as the perceived reality and can not replace it, as much as it might be similar in terms of brain processes to the perceived reality. We can not merely replace mind games and imagination with the reality that comes to being as a result of our interaction with the outside world. These two are not equal, even though both do not exist outside of us, even though they take place on the same platform and through similar processes, they are not the same and thus cannot take each other’s place. And for the same reason, they (imagination and perception) are both as real as they can get. But what is real? According to Arnold's character in the Westworld TV series, that which is irreplaceable! Neither of them can be replaced with the other one. And even in and of themselves, they are irreplaceable as no two individuals have exactly the same perception of a shared external object or same imagination. Also, no two perceptions of the same item or two imaginations of the same subject at different times in one individual are exactly the same either in their minute details.
1- McGilchrist, I. (2019). The master and his emissary: The divided brain and the making of the western world. Yale University Press.
2- Slocombe, W. (2019). ‘That which is real is irreplaceable’: Lies, Damned Lies, and (Dis-) Simulations in Westworld. In Reading Westworld (pp. 43–60). Palgrave Macmillan, Cham.