Psychology - A Study Of Mental Life
by Robert S. Woodworth
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(a) What is it that has four fingers and a thumb, but no flesh or bone?

(b) Why does the full moon rise about sunset?

(c) If a book and a postage stamp together cost $1.02, and the book costs $1.00 more than the stamp, how much does the stamp cost?

(d) A riddle: "Sisters and brothers have I none, yet this man's father is my father's son."

(e) Prove that a ball thrown horizontally over level ground will strike the ground at the same time, no matter how hard it is thrown.

(f) If no prunes are atherogenous, but some bivalves are atherogenous, can you conclude that some prunes are not bivalves?

(g) Deduce, as impersonally as possible, the opinion of you held by some other person.


William James, Principles of Psychology, 1890, Vol. II, pp. 325-371. John Dewey, How We Think, 1910.





From discovery we now turn to invention, from exploration to manipulation.

The human enterprise of exploration, which we have examined under the headings of perception and reasoning, as well as earlier under attention, runs the gamut from simple exploratory movements of the sense organs in looking and listening, to the elaborate scientific procedure followed in testing hypotheses and discovering the laws of nature. Inventive or manipulative activity runs a similar gamut from the child's play with his toys to the creation of a work of art, the designing of a work of engineering, the invention of a new machine, or the organization of a new government. The distinction between the two lines of activity is that exploration seeks what is there, and manipulation changes it to something else. Exploration seeks the facts as they exist, while invention modifies or rearranges the facts. The two enterprises go hand in hand, however, since facts must be known to be manipulated, while on the other hand manipulation of an object brings to light facts about it that could never be discovered by simple examination. Invention is based on science and also contributes to the advance of science.

Manipulation and exploration certainly go hand in hand in the little child's behavior. The baby picks up his new toy, turns it about and examines it on all sides, shakes it and is pleased if it makes a noise, drops it and is pleased {482} with its bang on the floor. This is manipulation, certainly; but it is also a way of exploring the properties of the toy.

Beginnings of Imagination in the Child

Beginning with grasping, turning, pushing, pulling, shaking and dropping of objects, the child's manipulation develops in several directions. One line of development leads to manual skill. The child learns to manage his toys better.

A second line of development is in the direction of constructiveness. Taking things apart and putting them together, building blocks, assembling dolls and toy animals into "families" or "parties" setting table or arranging toy chairs in a room, are examples of this style of manipulation, which calls less for manual dexterity than for seeing ways in which objects can be rearranged.

Make-believe is a third direction followed in the development of manipulation. The little boy puts together a row of blocks and pushes it along the floor, asserting that it is a train of cars. The little girl lays her doll carefully in its bed, saying "My baby's sick; that big dog did bite him". This might be spoken of as "manipulating things according to the meanings attached to them", the blocks being treated as cars, and the doll as a sick baby.

Perhaps a little later than make-believe to make its appearance in the child is story-telling the fourth type of manipulation. Where in make-believe he has an actual object to manipulate according to the meaning attached to it, in story-telling he simply talks about persons and things and makes them perform in his story. He comes breathless into the house with a harrowing tale of being pursued by a hippopotamus in the woods; or he gives a fantastic account of the doings of his acquaintances. For this he is sometimes accused of being a "little liar"—as indeed he {483} probably is when circumstances demand—and sometimes, more charitably, he is described as being still unable to distinguish observation from imagination; but really what he has not yet grasped is the social difference between his make-believe, which no one objects to, and his story-telling, which may lead people astray.

Both make-believe and story-telling are a great convenience to the child, since he is able by their means to manipulate big and important objects that he could not manage in sober reality. He thus finds an outlet for tendencies that are blocked in sober reality—blocked by the limitations of his environment, blocked by the opposition of other people, blocked by his own weakness and lack of knowledge and skill. Unable to go hunting in the woods, he can play hunt in the yard; unable to go to war with the real soldiers, he can shoulder his toy gun and campaign all about the neighborhood. The little girl of four years, hearing her older brothers and sisters talk of their school, has her own "home work" in "joggity", and her own graduation exercises.

Preliminary Definition of Imagination

In such ways as we have been describing, the little child shows "imagination", or mental manipulation. In story-telling the objects manipulated are simply thought of; in make-believe, though there is actual motor manipulation of present objects, the attached meanings are the important matter; and in construction there is apt to be a plan in mind in advance of the motor manipulation, as when you look at the furniture in a room and consider possible rearrangements.

The materials manipulated in imagination are usually facts previously perceived, and to be available for mental {484} manipulation they must now be recalled; but they are not merely recalled—they are rearranged and give a new result that may never have been perceived. A typical product of imagination is composed of parts perceived at different times and later recalled and combined, as a centaur is composed of man and horse, or a mermaid of woman and fish. Imagination is like reasoning in being a mental reaction; but it differs from reasoning in being manipulation rather than exploration; reasoning consists in seeing relationships that exist between facts, and imagination in putting facts into new relationships. These are but rough distinctions and definitions; we shall try to do a little better after we have examined a variety of imaginative performances.

"Imagination" and "invention" mean very much the same mental process, though "imagination" looks rather to the mental process itself, and "invention" more to the outcome of the process, which is a product having some degree of novelty and originality.

Imagination, like association and like attention, is sometimes free, and sometimes controlled. Controlled imagination is directed towards the accomplishment of some desired result, while free imagination wanders this way and that, with no fixed aim. Controlled imagination is seen in planning and designing; free imagination occurs in moments of relaxation, and may be called "play of the imagination". The free variety, as the simpler, will be considered first.

Our study will have more point if we first remind ourselves what are the psychological problems to be attacked in studying any mental activity. What is the stimulus and what the response? These are the fundamental questions. But the study of response breaks up into three subordinate questions, regarding the tendency that is awakened, regarding the {485} end-result obtained, and regarding the often complex process or series of responses, that leads to the end-result.

The response in imagination we have already defined, in a general way, as mental manipulation, and the end-result as the placing of facts into new combinations or relationships. The stimulus consists of the facts, either perceived at the moment or recalled from past perception, that are now freshly related or combined. The more precise question regarding the stimulus is, then, as to what sort of facts make us respond in an inventive or imaginative way; and the more precise question regarding the end-result is as to what kind of combinations or new relationships are given to the facts—both pretty difficult questions. In regard to process, the great question is as to how any one can possibly escape from the beaten track of instinct and habit, and do anything new; and in regard to tendency the question is as to what motives are awakened in inventive activity and what satisfaction there is in the end-result. This last question, as to why we imagine, is about the easiest to answer.


Free imagination was spoken of a moment ago as a kind of play; and we might turn this about and say that play, usually if not always, contains an element of imagination or invention. Sometimes the child makes up new games, very simple ones of course, to fit the materials he has to play with; but even when he is playing a regular game, he has constantly to adapt himself to new conditions as the game-situation changes. We may take the child's play as the first and simplest case of free invention and ask our questions regarding it. What are the child's play-stimuli (toys), how does he manipulate them, what end-results does he reach, and what satisfaction does he derive from {486} playing? We can ask these questions, but it is not so sure that we can answer them.

What is a toy? Anything to play with. But what characteristics of an object make it a real toy, which shall actually arouse the play response? First, it must be such that the child can move it; and almost anything that he can move serves, one time or another, for a plaything. But the surest stimulus is a new toy, the element of novelty and variety being important in arousing manipulation as it is in arousing exploration. However, to define a toy simply as something moveable, and also new if possible, fails to satisfy the spirit of inquiry, and about the only way to progress further is to make a long list of toys, and classify them from the psychological point of view. Thus we get the following classes of play-stimuli:

Little models of articles used by adults, such as tools, furniture, dishes; and we might include here dolls and toy animals. The child's response to this class of toys is imitative. Some psychologists have been so much impressed with the imitative play of children and animals (as illustrated by puppies playing fight), that they have conceived of all play as a sort of rehearsal for the serious business of life; but this conception does not apply very well to some of the other sorts of toy.

Noise-makers: rattle, drum, bell, horn, whistle, fire-cracker.

Things that increase your speed of locomotion, or that move you in unusual ways, as bicycle, skate, sled, rocking-horse, swing, seesaw, merry-go-round. Here belong also such sports as hopping, skipping, jumping, dancing, skipping rope, vaulting, leapfrog, whirling, somersault. The dizzy sensation resulting from stimulation of the semicircular canals is evidently pleasant to young children, and some of their sports seem aimed at securing a good measure of it.


Things that increase your radius of action; balls to throw or bat, bow and arrow, sling, mirror used to throw sunlight into a distant person's eyes; and we might include the bicycle here as well as in the preceding class.

Things that resist the force of gravity, floating, soaring, balancing, ascending, instead of falling; or that can be made to behave in this way. Here we have a host of toys and sports: balloons, soap bubbles, kites, rockets, boats, balls that bounce, tops that balance while they spin, hoops that balance while they roll, arrows shot high into the sky; climbing, walking on the fence, swimming, swinging, seesaw again.

Things that move in surprising ways or that are automatic: toy windmills, mechanical toys.

Things that can be opened and shut or readjusted in some similar way: a book to turn the leaves of, a door to swing or to hook and unhook, a bag or box to pack or unpack, water taps to turn on or off (specially on).

Plastic materials, damp sand, mud, snow; and other materials that can be worked in some way, as paper to tear or fold, stones or blocks to pile, load or build, water to splash or pour; and we might add here fire, which nearly every one, child or adult, likes to manage.

Finally, playmates should really be included in a list of playthings, since the presence of a playmate is often the strongest stimulus to arouse play.

Such being the stimulus, what is the play response? It consists in manipulating or managing the plaything so as to produce some interesting result. The hoop is made to roll, the kite to fly, the arrow to hit something at a distance, the blocks are built into a tower or knocked down with a crash, the mud is made into a "pie", the horn is sounded. Many games are variations on pursuit and capture (or escape): tag, hide-and-seek, prisoner's base, blind {488} man's buff, football, and we might include chess and checkers here. Wrestling, boxing, snowballing are variations on attack and defense. A great many are variations on action at a distance, of which instances have already been cited from children's toys; in adult games we find here golf, croquet, bowling, quoits, billiards, shooting. Many games emphasize motor skill, as skipping ropes, knife, cat's cradle, usually however with competition in skill between the different players. This element of manual skill enters of course into nearly all games. Mental acuteness appears in the guessing games, as well as in chess and many games of cards. Many games combine several of the elements mentioned, as in baseball we have action at a distance, pursuit and escape, motor skill and activity, and a chance for "head work".

The Play Motives

Now, what is the sense of games and toys, what satisfactions do they provide? What instincts or interests are thrown into activity? There is no one single "play instinct" that furnishes all the satisfaction, but conceivably every natural and acquired source of satisfaction is tapped in one play or another. In the games that imitate fighting, some of the joy of fighting is experienced, even though no real anger develops. In the games that imitate pursuit and escape, some of the joy of hunting and some of the joy of escape are awakened. In the "kissing games" that used to be common in young people's parties when dancing was frowned upon, and in dancing itself, some gratification of the sex instinct is undoubtedly present; but dancing also gives a chance for muscular activity which is obviously one source of satisfaction in the more active games. In fact, joy in motor activity must be counted as one of the most general sources of play-satisfaction. Another {489} general element is the love of social activity, which we see in dancing as well as in nearly all games and sports. Another, akin to the mere joy in motor activity, is the love of manipulation, with which we began this whole discussion.

The "escape motive" deserves a little more notice. Though you would say at first thought that no one could seek fear, and that this instinct could not possibly be utilized in play, yet a great many amusements are based on fear. The "chutes", "scenic railways", "roller coasters", etc., of the amusement parks would have no attraction if they had no thrill; and the thrill means fear. You get some of the thrill of danger, though you know that the danger is not very real. Probably the thrill itself would not be worth much, but being quickly followed by escape, it is highly satisfactory. The joy of escape more than pays for the momentary unpleasantness of fear. The fear instinct is utilized also in coasting on the snow, climbing, swimming, or any adventurous sport; in all of which there is danger, but the skilful player escapes by his own efforts. If he lost control he would get a tumble; and that is why the sport is exciting and worth while. He has his fear in check, to be sure, but it is awakened enough to make the escape from danger interesting. Nothing could be much further from the truth than to consider fear as a purely negative thing, having no positive contribution to make to human satisfaction. Though we try to arrange the serious affairs of life so as to avoid danger as much as possible, in play we seek such dangers as we can escape by skilful work. The fascination of gambling and of taking various risks probably comes from the satisfaction of the fear and escape motive.

But of all the "instincts", it is the self-assertive or masterful tendency that comes in oftenest in play. Competition, one form of self-assertion, is utilized in a tremendous number of games and sports. Either the players compete {490} as individuals, or they "choose sides" and compete as teams. No one can deny that the joy of winning is the high light in the satisfaction of play. Yet it is not the whole thing, for the game may have been worth while, even if you lose. Provided you can say, "Though I did not win, I played a good game", you have the satisfaction of having done well, which is the mastery satisfaction in its non-competitive form.

When the baby gets a horn, he is not contented to have somebody else blow it for him, but wants to blow it himself; and very pleased he is with himself when he can make it speak. "See what I can do!" is the child's way of expressing his feelings after each fresh advance in the mastery of his playthings. Great is the joy of the boy when he, himself, can make his top spin or his kite fly; and great is the girl's joy when she gets the knack of skipping a rope. Great is any one's joy when, after his first floundering, he comes to ride a bicycle, and the sense of power is enhanced in this case by covering distance easily, and so being master of a larger environment. As boys, I remember, we used to take great delight in the "apple thrower", which was simply a flexible stick, sharpened at one end to hold a green apple. With one's arm thus lengthened, the apple could be thrown to extraordinary distances, and to see our apple go sailing over a tall tree or striking the ground in the distance, gave a very satisfying sense of power. All of those toys that enable you to act at a distance, or to move rapidly, minister to the mastery impulse. Imitative play does the same, in that it enables the child to perform, in make-believe, the important deeds of adults. Children like to play at being grown-up, whether by wearing long dresses or by smoking, and it makes them feel important to do what the grown-ups do; you can observe how important they feel by the way they strut and swagger.


All in all, there are several different ways of gratifying the self-assertive or mastery impulse in play: always there is the toy or game-situation to master and manage; often self-importance is gratified by doing something big, either really or in make-believe; and usually there is a competitor to beat.


There is still another possible way in which play may gratify the mastery impulse. Why do we like to see a kite flying? Of course, if it is our kite and we are flying it, the mastery impulse is directly aroused and gratified; but we also like to watch a kite flown by some one else, and similarly we like to watch a hawk, a balloon or aeroplane, a rocket. We like also to watch things that balance or float or in other ways seem to be superior to the force of gravity. Why should such things fascinate us? Perhaps because of empathy, the "feeling oneself into" the object contemplated. As "sympathy" means "feeling with", "empathy" means "feeling into", and the idea is that the observer projects himself into the object observed, and gets some of the satisfaction from watching an object that he would get from being that object. Would it not be grand to be a kite, would it not be masterful? Here we stand, slaves of the force of gravity, sometimes toying with it for a moment when we take a dive or a coast, at other times having to struggle against it for our very lives, and all the time bound and limited by it—while the kite soars aloft in apparent defiance of all such laws and limitations. Of course it fascinates us, since watching it gives us, by empathy, some of the sense of power and freedom that seems appropriate to the behavior of a kite. Perhaps the fascination of fire is empathy of a similar sort; for fire is power.

Having thus found the mastery impulse here, there, and {492} almost everywhere in the realm of play, we are tempted to assume a masterful attitude ourselves and say, "Look you! We have discovered the one and only play motive, which is none other than the instinct of self-assertion". Thus we should be forgetting the importance in play of danger and the escape motive, the importance of manipulation for its own sake, and the importance of the mere joy in muscular and mental activity. Also, we should be overlooking the occasional presence of laughter, the occasional presence of sex attraction, and the almost universal presence of the gregarious and other social motives. Play gratifies many instincts, not merely a single one.

Further, it is very doubtful whether the whole satisfaction of play activity can be traced to the instincts, anyway, for play may bring in the native "likes and dislikes", which we saw [Footnote: See p. 180.] to be irreducible to instinctive tendencies; and it may bring in acquired likes and interests developed out of these native likes. Play gives rise to situations that are interesting and attractive to the players, though the attraction cannot be traced to any of the instincts. The rhythm of dancing, marching, and of children's sing-song games can scarcely be traced to any of the instincts.

The sociability of games goes beyond mere gregariousness, since it calls for acting together and not simply for being together; and at the same time it goes beyond competition and self-assertion, as is seen in the satisfaction the players derive from good team work. It is true that the individual player does not lay aside his self-assertion in becoming a loyal member of a team; rather, he identifies himself with the team, and finds in competition with the opposing team an outlet for his mastery impulse. But at the same time it is obvious that self-assertion would be still more fully gratified by man-to-man contests; and therefore the {493} usual preference of a group of people for "choosing sides" shows the workings of some other motive than self-assertion. The fact seems to be that cooerdinated group activity is an independent source of satisfaction.

If the self-assertive impulse of an individual player is too strongly aroused, he spoils the game, just as an angry player spoils a friendly wrestling match or snowball fight, and just as a thoroughly frightened passenger spoils a trip down the rapids, which was meant to be simply thrilling. The instincts are active in play, but they must not be too active, for human play is an activity carried on well above the instinctive level, and dependent on motives that cannot wholly be analyzed in terms of the instincts.

Day Dreams

Daydreaming is a sort of play, more distinctly imaginative than most other play. Simply letting the mind run, as in the instances cited under free association, where A makes you think of B and B of C, and so on—this is not exactly daydreaming, since there is no "dream", no castle in the air nor other construction, but simply a passing from one recalled fact to another. In imaginative daydreaming, facts are not simply recalled but are rearranged or built together into a story or "castle" or scheme. A daydream typically looks toward the future, as a plan for possible doing; only, it is not a serious plan for the future—which would be controlled imagination—nor necessarily a plan which could work in real life, but merely play of imagination. If we ask the same questions here as we did regarding child's play, we find again that it is easier to define the end-result and the source of satisfaction in daydreaming than it is to define the stimulus or the exact nature of the imaginative process.


Daydreams have some motive force behind them, as can be judged from the absorption of the dreamer in his dream, and also from an examination of the end-results of this kind of imagination. Daydreams usually have a hero and that hero is usually the dreamer's self. Sometimes one is the conquering hero, and sometimes the suffering hero, but in both cases the recognized or unrecognized merit of oneself is the big fact in the story, so that the mastery motive is evidently finding satisfaction here as well as in other forms of play. Probably the conquering hero dream is the commoner and healthier variety. A classical example is that of the milkmaid who was carrying on her head a pail of milk she had been given. "I'll sell this milk for so much, and with the money buy a hen. The hen will lay so many eggs, worth so much, for which I will buy me a dress and cap. Then the young men will wish to dance with me, but I shall spurn them all with a toss of the head." Her dream at this point became so absorbing as to get hold of the motor system and call out the actual toss of the head—but we are not after the moral just now; we care simply for the dream as a very true sample of many, many daydreams. Such dreams are a means of getting for the moment the satisfaction of some desire, without the trouble of real execution; and the desire gratified is very often some variety of self-assertion. Sometimes the hero is not the dreamer's self, but some one closely identified with himself. The mother is prone to make her son the hero of daydreams and so to gratify her pride in him.

The "suffering hero" daydream seems at first thought inexplicable, for why should any one picture himself as having a bad time, as misunderstood by his best friends, ill-treated by his family, jilted by his best girl, unsuccessful in his pet schemes? Why should any one make believe to be worse off than he is; what satisfaction can that {495} be to him? Certainly, one would say, the mastery motive could not be active here. And yet—do we not hear children boasting of their misfortunes? "Pooh! That's only a little scratch; I've got a real deep cut." My cut being more important than your scratch makes me, for the moment, more important than you, and gives me a chance to boast over you. Older people are known sometimes to magnify their own ailments, with the apparent aim of enhancing their own importance. Perhaps the same sort of motive underlies the suffering hero daydream.

I am smarting, let us suppose, from a slight administered by my friend; my wounded self-assertion demands satisfaction. It was a very little slight, and I should make myself ridiculous if I showed my resentment. But in imagination I magnify the injury done me, and go on to picture a dreadful state of affairs, in which my friend has treated me very badly indeed, and perhaps deserted me. Then I should not be ridiculous, but so deeply wronged as to be an important person, one to be talked about; and thus my demand for importance and recognition is gratified by my daydream.

Usually the suffering hero pictures himself as in the right, and animated by the noblest intentions, though misunderstood, and thus further enhances his self-esteem; but sometimes he takes the other tack and pictures himself as wicked—but as very, very wicked, a veritable desperado. It may be his self-esteem has been wounded by blame for some little meanness or disobedience, and he restores it by imagining himself a great, big, important sinner instead of a small and ridiculous one. In adolescence, the individual's growing demand for independence is often balked by the continued domination of his elders, and he rebelliously plans quite a career of crime for himself. He'll show them! They won't be so pig-headedly complacent when they know they have driven him to the bad. You can tell by the looks of {496} a person whose feelings are hurt that he is imagining something; usually he is imagining himself either a martyr or a desperado, or some other kind of suffering hero, often working up into a conquering hero in the end, when, his self-esteem restored, he is ready to be friends again. The suffering hero daydream is a "substitute reaction", taking the place of a fight or some other active self-assertion. The conquering hero daydream is often motivated in the same way; for example, our friend the milkmaid would not have been so ready to scorn the young men with a toss of the head if she had not been feeling her own actual inferiority and lack of fine clothes. The daydream makes good, in one way or another, for actual inability to get what we desire. The desire which is gratified in the play of imagination belongs very often indeed under the general head of self-assertion; but when one is in love it is apt to belong under that head. Love dreams of the agreeable sort need no further motivation; but the unpleasant, jealous type of love dream is at the same time a suffering hero dream, and certainly involves wounded self-assertion along with the sexual impulse. Probably the self-asserting daydream is the commonest variety, take mankind as a whole, with the love dream next in order of frequency. But there are many other sorts. There is the humor daydream, illustrated by the young person who suddenly breaks into a laugh and when you ask why replies that she was thinking how funny it would be if, etc., etc. She is very fond of a good laugh, and not having anything laughable actually at hand proceeds to imagine something. So, a music lover may mentally rehearse a piece when he has no actual music to enjoy; and if he has some power of musical invention, he may amuse himself, in idle moments, by making up music in his head; just as one who has some ability in decorative design may fill his idle moments by concocting new designs on paper. {497} When vacation time approaches, it is hard for any one, student or professor, to keep the thoughts from dwelling on the good times ahead, and getting some advance satisfaction. Thus all kinds of desires are gratified in imagination.


Do we have fear daydreams, as we have amusements utilizing the fear and escape motive? Yes, sometimes we imagine ourselves in danger and plan out an escape. One individual often amuses himself by imagining he is arrested and accused of some crime, and figuring out how he could establish an alibi or otherwise prove his innocence. But fear daydreams also include worry, which seems at first to be an altogether unpleasant state of mind, forced upon us and not indulged in as most daydreams are. Yet, as the worry is often entirely needless, it cannot be said to be forced upon a person, but must have some motive. There must be some satisfaction in it, in spite of all appearance.

Some abnormal cases of worry suggest the theory that the fear is but a cloak for unacknowledged desire. Take this extreme case. A young man, "tied to the apron-strings" of a too affectionate and too domineering mother, has a strong desire to break loose and be an independent unit in the world; but at the same time, being much attached to his mother, he is horrified by this desire. She goes on a railroad journey without him—just an ordinary journey with no special danger—but all the time she is away he is in an agony of suspense lest the train may be wrecked. Such an abnormal degree of worry calls for explanation. Well—did not the worry perhaps conceal a wish, a wish that the train might be wrecked? So he would be set free without any painful effort on his part; and he {498} was a young man who shrank from all effort. The psychopathologist who studied the case concluded that this was really the explanation of the worry.

If, however, we take such extreme cases as typical and cynically apply this conception to all worries, we shall make many mistakes. A student worries unnecessarily about an examination; therefore, he desires to fail. A mother worries because her child is late in getting home; therefore, she wants to be rid of that child. Thus, by being too psychopathological, we reach many absurd conclusions in everyday life; for it is the child that is loved that is worried over, and it is the examination that the student specially wishes to pass that he fears he has flunked.

Worry is a sort of substitute reaction, taking the place of real action when no real action is possible. The student has done all he can do; he has prepared for the examination, and he has taken the examination; now there is nothing to do except wait; so that the rational course would be to dismiss the matter from his mind; if he cannot accomplish that, but must do something, then the only thing he can do is to speculate and worry. So also the mother, in her uncertainty regarding her child, is impelled to action, and if she knew of any real thing to do she would do it and not worry; but there is nothing to do, except in imagination. Worry is fundamentally due to the necessity of doing something with any matter that occupies our mind; it is an imaginative substitute for real action.

But worry may be something of an indoor sport as well. Consider this—if the mother really believed her child had fallen into the pond, she would rush to pull him out; but while she is worrying for fear he may have fallen in, she remains at home. Really she expects to see him come home any minute, but by conjuring up imaginary dangers she is getting ready to make his home-coming a great relief instead {499} of a mere humdrum matter. She is "shooting the chutes", getting the thrill of danger with escape fully expected.

The normal time for a daydream is the time when there is no real act to be performed. A strong man uses it as the amusement of an idle moment and promptly forgets it. But one who is lacking in force, especially the personal force needed in dealing with other people, may take refuge in daydreams as a substitute for real doing. Instead of hustling for the money he needs he may, like Micawber, charm himself with imagining the good opportunities that may turn up. Instead of going and making love to the lady of his choice, he shyly keeps away from her and merely dreams of winning her. He substitutes imaginary situations for the real facts of his life, and gratifies his mastery motive by imaginary exploits. He invents imaginary ailments to excuse his lack of real deeds. He conjures up imaginary dangers to worry over. All this is abuse of imagination.


Let us turn now from daydreams to dreams of the night. These also are play of imagination, even freer from control and criticism than the daydream. In sleep the cortical brain functions sink to a low level, and perhaps cease altogether in the deepest sleep. Most of the dreams that are coherent enough to be recalled probably occur just after we have gone to sleep or just before we wake up, or at other times when sleep is light. At such times the simpler and more practised functions, such as recall of images, can go on, though criticism, good judgment, reasoning, and all that sort of delicate and complex activity, do not occur. Daytime standards of probability, decorum, beauty, wit, and excellence of any sort are in abeyance; consistency is thrown to the winds, the scenes being shifted in the middle of a {500} speech, and a character who starts in as one person merging presently into somebody else. Dreams follow the definition of imagination or invention, in that materials recalled from different contexts are put together into combinations and rearrangements never before experienced. The combinations are often bizarre and incongruous.

Perhaps the most striking characteristic of dreams is their seeming reality while they last. They seem real in spite of their incongruity, because of the absence of critical ability during sleep. In waking life, when the sight of one object reminds me of another and calls up an image of that other, I know that the image is an image, and I know I have thought of two different things. In sleep the same recall by association occurs, but the image is forthwith accepted as real; and thus things from different sources get together in the same dream scene, and a character who reminds us of another person forthwith becomes that other person. We are not mentally active enough in sleep to hold our images apart. Associative recall, with blending of the recalled material, and with entire absence of criticism, describes the process of dreaming.

What is the stimulus, to which the dream responds? Sometimes there is an actual sensory stimulus, like the alarm clock or a stomach ache; and in this case the dream comes under the definition of an illusion; it is a false perception, more grotesquely false than most illusions of the day. A boy wakes up one June morning from a dream of the Day of Judgement, with the last trump pealing forth and blinding radiance all about—only to find, when fully awake, that the sun is shining in his face and the brickyard whistle blowing the hour of four-thirty a.m. This was a false perception. More often, a dream resembles a daydream in being a train of thoughts and images without much relation to present sensory stimuli; and then the dream {501} would come under the definition of hallucination instead of illusion.

Sometimes a sensory stimulus breaks in upon a dream that is in progress, and is interpreted in the light of this dream. In one experiment, the dreamer, who was an authoress, was in the midst of a dream in which she was discussing vacation plans with a party of friends, when the experimenter disturbed her by declaiming a poem; in her dream this took the form of a messenger from her publisher, reciting something about a contract which seemed a little disturbing but which she hoped (in the dream) would not interfere with her vacation. Maury, an early student of this topic, was awakened from a feverish dream of the French Revolution by something falling on his neck; this, under the circumstances, he took to be the guillotine.

Now, why is a dream? What satisfaction does it bring to the dreamer? Or shall we say that it is merely a mechanical play of association, with no motivation behind it? Dreams are interesting while they last, sometimes fearful, sometimes angry, sometimes amorous, otherwise not very emotional but distinctly interesting, so that many people hate to have a dream broken up by awaking. It seems likely, then, that dreams are like daydreams in affording gratification to desires. They are "wish-fulfilling", to borrow a term from Freud's theory of dreams, soon to be considered.

A boy dreams repeatedly of finding whole barrels of assorted jackknives, and is bitterly disappointed every time to awake and find the knives gone; so that finally he questions the reality of the dream, but pinching himself (in the dream) concludes he must be awake this time. An adult frequently dreams of finding money, first a nickel in the dust, and then a quarter close by, and then more and more, till he wakes up and spoils it all. Such dreams are {502} obviously wish-fulfilling, as are also the sex dreams of sexually abstinent persons, or the feasting dreams of starving persons, or the polar explorer's recurring dream of warm, green fields. An eminent psychologist has given a good account of a dream which he had while riding in an overcrowded compartment of a European train, with the window closed and himself wedged in tightly far from the window. In this uncomfortable situation he dropped asleep and dreamed that he had the seat next to the window, had the window open and was looking out at a beautiful landscape. In all these cases the wish gratified in the dream is one that has been left unsatisfied in the daytime, and this is according to the famous passage, slightly paraphrased, "What a man hath, why doth he yet dream about?" The newly married couple do not dream of each other. We seldom dream of our regular work, unless for some reason we are disturbed over it. The tendencies that are satisfied during the day do not demand satisfaction in dreams; but any tendency that is aroused during the day without being able to reach its conclusion is likely to come to the surface in a dream.

Any sort of desire or need, left unsatisfied in the day, may motivate a dream. Desire for food, warmth, sex gratification, air, money, etc., have been exemplified in dreams already cited. Curiosity may be the motive, as in the case of an individual, who, having just come to live in Boston, was much interested in its topography, and who saw one day a street car making off in what seemed to him a queer direction, so that he wondered where it could be going and tried unsuccessfully to read its sign. The next night he dreamed of seeing the car near at hand and reading the sign, which, though really consisting of nonsense names, satisfied his curiosity during the dream.

The mastery motive, so prominent in daydreams, can be detected also in many sleep dreams. There are dreams in {503} which we do big things—tell excruciatingly funny jokes, which turn out when recalled next day to be utterly flat; or improvise the most beautiful music, which we never can recall with any precision, but which probably amounted to nothing; or play the best sort of baseball. The gliding or flying dream, which many people have had, reminds one of the numerous toys and sports in which defiance of gravity is the motive; and certainly it gives you a sense of power and freedom to be able, in a dream, to glide gracefully up a flight of stairs, or step with ease from the street upon the second-story balcony. One dream which at first thought cannot be wish-fulfilling perhaps belongs under the mastery motive: The dreamer sees people scurrying to cover, looks up and sees a thunderstorm impending; immediately he is struck by lightning and knocked down in the street; but he finds he can rise and walk home, and seems to have suffered no harm except for a black blotch around one eye. Now, any man who could take lightning that way would be proud to wear the scar. So the dream was wish-fulfilling, and the wish involved was, as often, the self-assertive impulse.

This last dream is a good one, however, for pointing another moral. We need not suppose that the dreamer was aiming at the denouement from the beginning of the dream. Dreams have no plot in most instances; they just drift along, as one thing suggests another. The sight of people running to cover suggested a thunderstorm, and that suggested that "I might get struck", as it would in the daytime. Now, the dream mentality, being short on criticism, has no firm hold on "may be" and "might be", but slides directly into the present indicative. The thought of being struck is being struck, in a dream. So we do not need to suppose that the dreamer pictured himself as struck by lightning in order to have the satisfaction of coming off {504} whole and bragging of the exploit. In large measure the course of a dream is determined by free association; but the mastery motive and other easily awakened desires act as a sort of bias, facilitating certain outcomes and inhibiting others.

But there are unpleasant dreams, as well as pleasant. There are fear dreams, as well as wish dreams. A child who is afraid of snakes and constantly on the alert against them when out in the fields during the day, dreams repeatedly of encountering a mass of snakes and is very much frightened in his sleep. Another child dreams of wolves or tigers. A person who has been guilty of an act from which bad consequences are possible dreams that those consequences are realized. The officer suffering from nervous war strain, or "shell shock", often had nightmares in which he was attacked and worsted by the enemy. Since Freud has never admitted that dreams could be fear-motived, holding that here, as in worry, the fear is but a cloak for a positive desire, some of his followers have endeavored to interpret these shell-shock nightmares as meaning a desire to be killed and so escape from the strain. To be consistent, they would have also to hold that the child, who of all people is the most subject to terrifying dreams, secretly desires death, though not avowing this wish even to himself. This would be pushing consistency rather far, and it is better to admit that there are real fear dreams, favored by indigestion or nervous strain, but sometimes occurring simply by the recall of a fear-stimulus in the same way that anything is recalled, i.e., through association.

A large share of dreams does not fit easily into any of the classes already described. They seem too fantastic to have any personal meaning. Yet they are interesting to the dreamer, and they would be worth going to see if they could be reproduced and put on the stage. Isn't that sufficient {505} excuse for them? May they not be simply a free play of imagination that gives interesting results because of its very freedom from any control or tendency, and because of the vividness of dream imagery?

Freud's Theory of Dreams

Just at this point we part company with Freud, whose ideas on dreams as wish-fulfilments we have been following, in the main. Not that Freud would OK our account of dreams up to this point. Far from it. It would seem to him on too superficial a level altogether, dealing as it does with conscious wishes and with straightforward fulfilments. It has left out of account the "Unconscious" and its symbolisms. The Freudian would shake his head at our interpretation of the lightning dream, and say, "Oh, there is a good deal more in that dream. We should have to analyze that dream, by letting the dreamer dwell on each item of it and asking himself what of real personal significance the stroke of lightning or the scar around the eye suggested to him. He would never be able by his unaided efforts to find the unconscious wishes fulfilled in the dream, but under the guidance of the psychoanalyst, who is a specialist in all matters pertaining to the Unconscious, he may be brought to realize that his dream is the symbolic expression of wishes that are unconscious because they have been suppressed".

The Unconscious, according to Freud, consists of forbidden wishes—wishes forbidden by the "Censor", which represents the moral and social standards of the individual and his critical judgment generally. When the Censor suppresses a wish, it does not peaceably leave the system but sinks to an unconscious state in which it is still active and liable to make itself felt in ways that get by the Censor because they are disguised and symbolic. An abnormal worry {506} is such a disguise, a queer idea that haunts the nervous person is another, "hysterical" paralysis or blindness is another.

In normal individuals the dream life is held by Freud to be the chief outlet for the suppressed wishes; for then the Censor sleeps and "the mice can play". Even so, they dare not show themselves in their true shape and color, but disguise themselves in innocent-appearing symbolism. That lightning may stand for something much more personal. Let your mind play about that "being knocked down by lightning and getting up again", and ask yourself what experience of childhood it calls up.—Well, I remember the last time my father whipped me and I came through defiant, without breaking down as I always had before on similar occasions.—Yes, now we are on the track of something. The lightning symbolizes your father and his authority over you, which as a child you resented. You were specially resentful at your father's hold on your mother, whom you regarded as yours, your father being a rival with an unfair advantage. Your sex impulse was directed towards your mother, when you were a mere baby, but you soon came to see (how, Freud has never clearly explained) that this was forbidden, and that your father stood in the way. You resented this, you hated your father, while at the same time you may have loved him, too; so this whole complex and troublesome business was suppressed to the Unconscious, whence it bobs up every night in disguise. You may dream of the death of some one, and on analysis that some one is found to represent your father, whom as a child you secretly wished out of the way; or that some one may stand for your younger brother, against whom you, had a standing grudge because he had usurped your place as the pet of the family. These childish wishes are the core of the Unconscious and help to motivate all dreams, but more recently suppressed {507} wishes may also be gratified in dream symbolism. A man may "covet his neighbor's wife", but this is forbidden, unworthy, and false to the neighbor who is also his friend. The wish is disavowed, suppressed, not allowed in the waking consciousness; but it gratifies itself symbolically in a dream; the neighbor's wife not appearing at all in the dream, but the neighbor's automobile instead, which the neighbor cannot run properly, while the dreamer manages it beautifully.

Freud has claimed the dream as his special booty, and insists that all dreams are wish-fulfilments, even those that seem mere fantastic play of imagination, since, as he sees it, no mental activity could occur except to gratify some wish. Further, he holds, most if not all dreams are fulfilments of suppressed wishes, and these are either sex or spite wishes, the spite wishes growing out of the interference of other people with our sex wishes.

The objection to Freud's theory of dreams is, first, that he fails to see how easy-running the association or recall mechanism is. It isn't necessary to look for big, mysterious driving forces, when we know that A makes you think of B, and B of C, with the greatest ease. The dreamer isn't laboring, he is idly playing, and his images come largely by free association, with personal desires giving some steer.

Another objection is that Freud overdoes the Unconscious; suppressed wishes are usually not so unconscious as he describes them; they are unavowed, unnamed, unanalyzed, but conscious for all that. It is not so much the unconscious wish that finds outlet in dreams and daydreams, as the unsatisfied wish, which may be perfectly conscious.

Another very serious objection to Freud is that he overdoes the sex motive or "libido". He says there are two main tendencies, that of self-preservation and that of reproduction, but that the former is ordinarily not much subject to suppression, while the latter is very much under the {508} social ban. Consequently the Unconscious consists mostly of suppressed sex wishes. Evidently, however, Freud's analysis of human motives is very incomplete. He does not clearly recognize the self-assertive tendency, which, as a matter of fact, is subjected to much suppression from early childhood all through life, and which undoubtedly has as much to do with dreams, as it has with daydreams. Freud has given an "impressionistic" picture, very stimulating and provocative of further exploration, but by no means to be accepted as a true and complete map of the region.

Autistic Thinking

Dreaming, whether awake or asleep, is free imagination. It does not have to check up with any standard. So long as it is interesting at the moment and gratifies the dreamer in any way, it serves its purpose. Sometimes the daydreamer exercises some control, breaking off a spiteful or amorous dream because he thinks it had better not be indulged; but in this he ceases to be simply a daydreamer. Daydreaming, by itself, is an example of what is called "autistic thinking", which means thinking that is sufficient unto itself, and not subjected to any criticism. Autistic thinking gratifies some desire and that is enough for it. It does not submit to criticism from other persons nor from other tendencies of the individual, nor does it seek to square itself with the real world.

Autistic thinking, indulged in by every imaginative person in moments of relaxation, is carried to an absurd extreme by some types of insane individuals. One type withdraws so completely from reality as to be inaccessible in the way of conversation, unresponsive to anything that happens, entirely immersed in inner imaginings. Others, while living in the world about them, transform it into a make-believe {509} world by attaching meanings to things and persons as suits themselves. This institution, in which the subject is confined, is his royal palace, the doctors are his officials, the nurses his wives, "thousands of them, the most beautiful women in creation". Or the delusion may take the line of the "suffering hero", the subject imagining himself a great man shut up in this place by the machinations of his enemies; the doctors are spies and enemy agents, and the nurses also act suspiciously; his food is poisoned, and he is kept in a weak and helpless condition, all out of fear of him. It is impossible to argue the patient out of his delusions by pointing out to him how clearly they conflict with reality; he evades any such test by some counter-argument, no matter how flimsy, and sticks to his dream or make-believe.

Autistic thinking is contrasted with realistic thinking, which seeks to check up with real facts; it may be contrasted also with socialized thinking, which submits to the criticism of other people; and it may even be contrasted with self-criticized thinking, in which the individual scrutinizes what he has imagined, to see whether it is on the whole satisfactory to himself, or whether it simply gratified a single or momentary impulse that should be balanced off by other tendencies.

Invention and Criticism

"Criticism"—the word has been used repeatedly, and it is time it gave an account of itself. Criticism evidently demands balancing off one desire by another. One tendency gets criticized by running afoul of another tendency, one idea by conflicting with another idea. We concoct a fine joke to play on our friend; but then the thought comes to us that he may not take it kindly; we don't want to break with our friend, and so we regretfully throw our promising invention on the scrap heap. That is self-criticism, the {510} balancing off of one impulse by another. Self-criticism is obnoxious to the natural man, who prefers to follow out any tendency that has been aroused till it reaches its goal; but he learns self-criticism in the hard school of experience. For plenty of criticism is directed upon the individual from without.

Criticism is directed upon him by the facts of the real world, so soon as he tries to act out what he has imagined. Often his invention will not work, his plan does not succeed, and he is involved in chagrin and even pain. He must perforce cast away his plan and think up a new one. At this point the "weak brother" is tempted to give up trying, and take refuge in autistic thinking, but the stronger individual accepts the challenge of reality. He sees that an invention is not satisfactory unless it will really work, and sets about learning what will work and what not, so accumulating observations that later enable him to criticize his own ideas, to some extent, before trying them out on real things.

Criticism is directed upon the individual from the side of other people, who from the day he first begins to tell his childish imaginings, are quite free with their objections. Humiliated by this critical reception of his ideas, the individual may resolve to keep them to himself for the future, and draw away, again, towards autistic thinking; or, more forcefully, he may exert himself to find some idea that will command the approval of other people. If he can take rebuffs goodnaturedly, he soon finds that social criticism can be a great help, that two heads are better than one in planning any invention that needs to work. He accumulates knowledge of what will pass muster when presented to other people, and thus again learns self-criticism.

Self-criticism is helped by such rules as to "think twice", to "sleep on it before deciding", to "drop the matter for a time and come back to it and see whether it still looks {511} the same". When you are all warmed up over an idea, its recency value gives it such an advantage over opposing ideas that they have no chance, for the moment, of making themselves felt in the line of criticism.

I once heard the great psychologist, and great writer, William James, make a remark that threw some light on his mode of writing. In the evening, he said, after warming up to his subject, he would write on and on till he had exhausted the lead he was following, and lay the paper aside with the feeling, "Good! Good! That's good". The next morning, he said, it might not seem good at all. This calls to mind the old advice to writers about its being "better to compose with fury and correct with phlegm than to compose with phlegm and correct with fury". The phlegmatic critical attitude interferes considerably with the enthusiastic inventive activity. Give invention free rein for the time being, and come around with criticism later.

Some over-cautious and too self-critical persons, though rather fertile in ideas, never accomplish much in the way of invention because they cannot let themselves go. Criticism is always at their elbow, suggesting doubts and alternatives and preventing progress in the creative activity, instead of biding its time and coming in to inspect the completed result. For a similar reason, much of the best inventive work—writing, for example, or painting—is done in prolonged periods of intense activity, which allow time for invention to get warmed to its task, when it takes the bit in its teeth and dashes off at a furious speed, leaving criticism to trail along behind.

Invention in the service of art or of economic and social needs is controlled imagination, realistic, socialized, subjected to criticism. It cannot afford to be autistic, but must meet objective or social standards. Mechanical inventions must work when translated into matter-of-fact wood and iron, and {512} must also pass the social test of being of some use. Social inventions of the order of institutions, laws, political platforms and slogans, plans of campaign, must "work" in the sense of bringing the desired response from the public. Social imagination of the very important sort suggested by the proverbs, "Seeing ourselves as others see us", or "Putting ourselves in the other fellow's place"—for it is only by imagination that we can thus get outside of our own experience and assume another point of view—must check up with the real sentiments of other people.

The Enjoyment of Imaginative Art

It requires imagination to enjoy art as well as to produce it. The producer of the work of art puts the stimuli before you, but you must make the response yourself, and it is an inventive response, not a mere repetition of some response you have often made. The novelist describes a character for you, and you must respond by putting together the items in the description so as to conceive of a character you have never met. The painter groups his figures before you, but you must get the point of the picture for yourself. The musical composer provides a series of chords, but you must get the "hang" of the passage for yourself, and if he has introduced a novel effect, it may not be easy to find any beauty in it, at least on the first hearing.

Art, from the consumer's side, is play. It is play of the imagination, with the materials conveniently presented by the artist. Now, as art is intended to appeal to a consumer (or enjoyer), the question as to sources of satisfaction in the enjoyment of art is fundamental in the whole psychology of art, production as well as consumption.

We have the same questions to ask regarding the enjoyment of a novel as regarding a daydream. Novel-reading is daydreaming with the materials provided by the {513} author, and gratifies the same motives. A novel to be really popular must have a genuine hero or heroine—some one with whom the reader can identify himself. The frequency of novels in which the hero or heroine is a person of high rank, or wins rank or wealth in the course of the story, is a sign of appeal to the mastery motive. The humble reader is tickled in his own self-esteem by identifying himself for the time with the highborn or noble or beautiful character in the story. The escape motive also is relied upon to furnish the excitement of the story, which always brings the hero into danger or difficulty and finally rescues him, much to the reader's relief. Love stories appeal, of course, to the sex impulse, humorous stories to laughter, and mystery stories to curiosity. Cynical stories, showing the "pillars of society" in an ignoble light, appeal to the self-assertive impulse of the reader, in that he is led to apply their teaching to pretentious people whom he knows about, and set them down a peg, to his own relative advancement. But here again we have to insist, as under the head of sports and daydreams, that interests of a more objective kind are also gratified by a good work of fiction. A story that runs its logical course to a tragic end is interesting as a good piece of workmanship, and as an insight into the world. We cannot heartily identify ourselves with Hamlet or Othello, yet we should be sorry to have those figures erased from our memories; they mean something, they epitomize world-facts that compel our attention.

The appeal of art is partly emotional.

A very great work of art, the Apollo Belvedere or the Sistine Madonna, when you suddenly come upon it in walking through a gallery, may move you almost or quite to tears. Beautiful music, and not necessarily sad music either, has the same effect. Why this particular emotion should be aroused is certainly an enigma. "Crying because you are so happy" is similar {514} but itself rather inexplicable. In many other cases, the emotional appeal of art is easily analyzed. The pathetic appeals straightforwardly to the grief impulse, the humorous to the laughter impulse, the tragic to fear and escape. The sex motive is frequently utilized in painting and sculpture as well as in literature.

Art makes also an intellectual appeal.

It is satisfying partly because of this appeal, as is clear when we remember that many great works of art require mental effort in order to grasp and appreciate them. You must be wide-awake to follow a play of Shakespeare; you must puzzle out the meaning of a group painting before fully enjoying it; you must study some of the detail of a Gothic cathedral before getting the full effect; music may be too "classical" for many to grasp and follow. Unless, then, the artist has made a great mistake, the mental activity which he demands from his public must contribute to the satisfaction they derive from his works. If his appeal were simply to their emotions, any intellectual labor would be a disturbing element. The intellectual appeal is partly to objective interests in the thing presented, partly to interest in the workmanship, and partly to the mastery motive in the form of problem solution.

Perhaps we do not often think of a fine painting or piece of music as a problem set us for solution, but it is that, and owes part of its appeal to its being a problem. To "get the hang of" a work of art requires some effort and attention; if the problem presented is too difficult for us, the work of art is dry; if too easy, it is tame.

The mastery motive is probably as important in the enjoyment of art as it is in play and dreaming. It comes in once in the joy of mastering the significance of the work of art, and again in self-identification with the fine characters portrayed.


Empathy in art enjoyment.

At first thought, some forms of art, as architecture, seem incapable of making the just-mentioned double appeal to the mastery motive. Architecture can certainly present problems for the beholder to solve, but how can the beholder possibly identify himself with a tower or arch? If, however, we remember the "empathy" that we spoke of under the head of play, we see that the beholder may project himself into the object, unintentionally of course, and thus perhaps get satisfaction of his mastery impulse.

Look at a pillar, for example. If the pillar is too massive for the load supported, it gives you the unsatisfactory impression of doing something absurdly small for your powers. If on the contrary the pillar is too slender for the load that seems to rest upon it, you get the feeling of strain and insecurity; but if it is rightly proportioned, you get the feeling of a worthy task successfully accomplished. The pillar, according to empathy, pleases you by arousing and gratifying your mastery impulse; and many other architectural effects can be interpreted in the same way.

Empathy can perhaps explain the appeal of the big in art and nature. In spite of the warnings put forth against thinking of mere bigness as great or fine, we must admit that size makes a very strong appeal to something in human nature. The most perfect miniature model of a cathedral, however interesting and attractive as it rests on the table before you, fails to make anything like the impression that is made by the giant building towering above you. Big trees, lofty cliffs, grand canyons, tremendous waterfalls, huge banks of clouds, the illimitable expanse of the sea, demonstrate cogently the strong appeal of the big. Perhaps the big is not necessarily grand, but the grand or sublime must be big or somehow suggest bigness. The question is, then, what it is in us that responds to the appeal of the big.


Perhaps it is the submissive tendency that is aroused. This great mountain, so far outclassing me that I am not tempted in the least to compete with it, affords me the joy of willing submission. The escape motive may come in along with submissiveness—at the first sight of the mountain a thrill of fear passes over me, but I soon realize that the mountain will not hurt me in spite of its awe-inspiring vastness; so that my emotion is blended of the thrill of fear, the relief of escape, and the humble joy of submission. That is one analysis of the esthetic effect of bigness.

Empathy suggests a very different analysis. According to this, projecting myself into the mountain, identifying myself with it, I experience the sensation of how it feels to be a mountain. It feels big—I feel big. My mastery impulse is gratified. To decide between these two opposing interpretations ought to be possible from the behavior or introspection of a person in the presence of some big object. If he feels insignificant and humble and bows reverently before the object, we may conclude that the submissive tendency is in action; but if the sight of the grand object makes him feel strong and fine, if he throws out his chest and a gleam comes into his eye, then everything looks like the mastery motive. Quite possibly, the effect varies with the person and the occasion.

We have to think of art as a great system or collection of inventions that owes its existence to its appeal to human nature, and that has found ways, as its history has progressed, of making its appeal more and more varied. Art is a type in these respects of many social enterprises, such as sport, amusement, and even such serious matters as politics and industry. Each of these is a collection of inventions that persists because it appeals to human impulses, and each one appeals to a variety of different impulses.


The Psychology of Inventive Production

To the consumer, art is play, but to the producer it is work, in the sense that it is directed towards definite ends and has to stand criticism according as it does or does not reach those ends. What is true of the producer of art works is true also of other inventors, and we may as well consider all sorts of controlled imagination together.

In spite of the element of control that is present in productive invention, the really gifted inventor seems to make play of his work to a large extent. Certainly the inventive genius does not always have his eyes fixed on the financial goal, nor on the appeal which his inventions are to make to the public. It is astonishing to read in the lives of inventors what a lot of comparatively useless contrivances they busied themselves with, apparently from the pure joy of inventing. One prolific writer said that he "never worked in his life, only played". The inventor likes to manipulate his materials, and this playfulness has something to do with his originality, by helping to keep him out of the rut.

That "necessity is the mother of invention" is only half of the truth; it points to the importance of a directive tendency, but fails to show how the inventor manages to leave the beaten path and really invent. Necessity, or some desire, puts a question, without which the inventor would not be likely to find the answer; but he needs a kind of flexibility or playfulness, just because his job is that of seeing things in a new light. We must allow him to toy with his materials a bit, and even to be a bit "temperamental", and not expect him to grind out works of art or other inventions as columns of figures are added.

When inventive geniuses have been requested to indicate their method, they have been able to give only vague hints. How does the musical composer, for example, free himself of {518} all the familiar pieces and bring the notes into a fresh arrangement? All that he can tell about it is usually that he had an "inspiration"; the new air simply came to him. Now, of course the air did not really come to him from outside; he made it, it was his reaction, but it was a quick, free reaction, of which he could observe little introspectively.

Perhaps the best-studied case of invention is that of the learner in typewriting, who, after laboriously perfecting his "letter habits" or responses to single letters by appropriate finger movements on the keyboard, may suddenly find himself writing in a new way, the word no longer being spelled out, but being written as a unit by a cooerdinated series of finger movements. The amazing thing is that, without trying for anything of the kind, he has been able to break away from his habit of spelling out the word, and shift suddenly to a new manner of writing. He testifies that he did not plan out this change, but was surprised to find himself writing in the new way. He was feeling well that day, hopeful and ambitious, he was striving for greater speed, and, while he was completely absorbed in his writing, this new mode of reaction originated.

We see in this experimentally studied case some of the conditions that favor invention. Good physical condition, freshness, mastery of the subject, striving for some result, and "hopefulness". Now, what is that last? Confidence, enterprise, willingness to "take a chance", eagerness for action and readiness to break away from routine? Some of this independent, manipulating spirit was probably there.

A soldier, so wounded as to paralyze his legs but capable of recovery by training, had advanced far enough to hobble about with a cane and by holding to the walls. One morning, feeling pretty chipper, he took a chance and left the wall, cutting straight across the room; and getting through without a fall, was naturally much encouraged and {519} maintained this advance. This might be called invention; it was breaking away from what had become routine, and that is the essential fact about the inventive reaction. This playful spirit of cutting loose, manipulating, and rearranging things to suit yourself is certainly a condition favorable to invention. It does not guarantee a valuable invention, but it at least helps towards whatever invention the individual's other qualifications make possible.

Another condition favorable to invention is youth. Seldom does a very old person get outside the limits of his previous habits. Few great inventions, artistic or practical, have emanated from really old persons, and comparatively few even from the middle-aged. On the other hand, boys and girls under eighteen seldom produce anything of great value, not having as yet acquired the necessary mastery of the materials with which they have to deal. The period from twenty years up to forty seems to be the most favorable for inventiveness.

Imagination Considered in General

Finally, we must return to the question of definition or general description that was left open near the beginning of the chapter. There seem to be two steps in the inventive response, one preliminary, the other strictly inventive. The preliminary step brings the stimuli to bear, and invention is the response that follows.

Typically, the preliminary stage consists in recall; and association by similarity, bringing together materials from different past experiences, is very important as a preliminary to invention. Facts recalled from different contexts are thus brought together, and invention consists in a response to such novel combinations of facts. The two steps in invention are, first, getting a combination of stimuli, and second, responding to the combination.


Sometimes it has been said that imagination consists in putting together material from different sources, but this leaves the matter in mid-air; recall can bring together facts from different sources and so afford the stimulus for an imaginative response, but the response goes beyond the mere togetherness of the stimuli. Thinking of a man and also of a horse is not inventing a centaur; there is a big jump from the juxtaposition of the data to the specific arrangement that imagination gives them. The man plus the horse may give no response at all, or may give many other responses besides that of a centaur; for example, a picture of the man and the horse politely bowing to each other. The particular manipulation, or imaginative response, that is made varies widely; sometimes it consists in taking things apart rather than putting them together, as when you imagine how a house would look with the evergreen tree beside it cut down; always it consists in putting the data into new relationships.

Imagination thus presents a close parallel to reasoning, where, also, there are two stages, the preliminary consisting in getting the premises together and the final consisting in perceiving the conclusion. The final response in imagination is in general like that in reasoning; both are perceptive reactions; but imagination is freer and more variable. Reasoning is governed by a very precise aim, to see the actual meaning of the combined premises; that is, it is exploratory; while imagination, though it is usually more or less steered either by a definite aim or by some bias in the direction of agreeable results, has after all much more latitude. It is seeking, not a relationship that is there, but one that can be put there.



1. Outline the chapter.

2. Make a list of hobbies and amusements that you specially enjoy, and try to discover the sources of satisfaction in each.

3. Recall two stories that you specially enjoyed, and try to discover the sources of satisfaction in each.

4. How far does the account of daydreams given in the text square with your own daydreams, and how far does it seem inadequate?

5. An experiment on the speed of revery or of daydreaming. Beginning at a recorded time, by your watch, let your mind wander freely for a few moments, stopping as soon as your stream of thoughts runs dry. Note the time at the close. Now review your daydream (or revery), and tally off the several scenes or happenings that you thought of, so as to count up and see how many distinct thoughts passed through your mind. How many seconds, on the average, were occupied by each successive item?

6. Why do dreams seem real at the time?

7. Analysis of a dream. Take some dream that you recall well, and let your thoughts play about it, and about the separate items of it—about each object, person, speech, and happening in the dream—with the object of seeing whether they remind you of anything personally significant. Push the analysis back to your childhood, by asking whether anything about the dream symbolizes your childish experiences or wishes. To be sure, the psychoanalyst would object that the individual cannot be trusted to make a complete analysis of his own dream—just as the psychologist would object to your accepting the recalled experiences and wishes as necessarily standing in any causal relation to your dream—but, at any rate, the exercise is interesting.

8. Problems in invention. Solve some of these, and compare the mental process with that of reasoning.

(a) Devise a game to be played by children and adults together, to everybody's satisfaction.

(b) Imagine a weird animal, after the analogy of the centaur.

(c) Imagine an interesting incident, bringing in an old man, a little girl, and a waterfall.

(d) Design the street plan for an ideal small town, built on both sides of a small river.

9. Show how empathy might make us prefer a symmetrical building to one that is lop-sided.



On the imagination and play of children, see Norsworthy and Whitley's Psychology of Childhood, 1918, Chapters IX and XII.

For Freud's views regarding dreams, see his Interpretation of Dreams, translated by Brill, 1913.

For a view which, though psychoanalytical, diverges somewhat from that of Freud, see Maurice Nicoll, Dream Psychology, 1917; also C. W. Kimmins, Children's Dreams, 1920.

For studies of play, see Edward S. Robinson, "The Compensatory Function of Make-Believe Play", in the Psychological Review for 1920, Vol. 27, pp. 429-439; also M. J. Reaney, The Psychology of the Organized Group Game, 1916.

On invention, see Josiah Royce, "The Psychology of Invention", in the Psychological Review for 1898, Vol. 5, pp. 113-144; also F. W. Taussig's Inventors and Money-Makers, 1915.





If the psychologist were required to begin his chapter on the will with a clean-cut definition, he would be puzzled what to say. He might refer to the old division of the mind into the "three great faculties" of intellect, feeling, and will, but would be in duty bound to add at once that this "tripartite division" is now regarded as rather useless, if not misleading. It is misleading if it leads us to associate will exclusively with motor action, for we also have voluntary attention and voluntary control in reasoning and inventing, and we have involuntary motor reactions. "Will" seems not to be any special kind of response, but rather to refer to certain relationships in which a response may stand to other responses—but this is certainly too vague a definition to be of use.

"Will" is not precisely a psychological term, anyway, but is a term of common speech which need not refer to any psychological unit. In common speech it has various and conflicting meanings. "Since you urge me", one may say, "I will do this, though much against my will." Let the dictionary define such words. What psychology should do with them is simply to take them as a mining prospector takes an outcropping of ore: as an indication that it may pay to dig in the neighborhood.


Voluntary and Involuntary Action

About the first thing we strike when we start digging is the distinction between voluntary and involuntary. A man has committed homicide, and the question in court is whether he did it "with malice aforethought", i.e., with full will and intention, whether he did it in a sudden fit of anger, i.e., impulsively rather than quite voluntarily, or whether it was an accident and so wholly unintentional or involuntary. The court wishes to know, since a man who has committed one sort of homicide is a very different character from one who has committed another sort; different acts can be expected from him in the future and different precautions need to be taken accordingly.

It is a fact, then, that an act may be performed either with or without foreknowledge—a remarkable fact both ways! An intentional act is remarkable from the side of physics or chemistry or botany—which is to say that it is very exceptional in nature at large. On the other hand, a completely involuntary act is rather exceptional in human behavior and perhaps in animal behavior as well, for almost always there is some striving towards an end, some impulse. The simplest reflexes, to be sure, are completely involuntary. The pupillary reaction to light is not done with malice aforethought, cannot be so done. The lid reflex, or wink of the eye, occurs many times in the course of an hour, without foreknowledge, or after-knowledge for that matter, though the same movement can be made voluntarily. Sneezing and coughing are not voluntary in the full sense, but they are distinctly impulsive, they strive towards desired relief. To sneeze voluntarily is to sneeze when you don't want to, and to sneeze involuntarily is to sneeze when you want to—which seems queer, since we usually think of a voluntary act as one done to further our wishes. The solution of this puzzle is, {525} of course, that a voluntary sneeze is desired not because of a direct impulse but to gain some ulterior end, such as to prove we can do it, or for histrionic purposes—in short, for some purpose beyond the immediate satisfaction of an impulse.

Thus we may classify acts as wholly involuntary or mechanical, as impulsive, and as distinctly voluntary or purposive. Or, we may arrange acts in a scale from those that have no conscious end, through those aimed directly at an immediate end, up to those done to accomplish an ulterior end which is imagined beforehand. The last class of fully voluntary acts belongs under the general head of manipulation, just as imagination does. We imagine some change to be produced in the existing situation and then proceed to put our imagination into effect; and this is a typical voluntary act.

We seldom, however, picture a complete act in imagination before executing it. Even so simple an act as closing the fist cannot be completely pictured beforehand; for if you try to imagine how the closed fist is going to feel and then close it, you will find that you left out of your image many details of the actual kinesthetic sensations. What we imagine and intend is some change in the situation, and we then proceed to execute that change and other changes incidentally.

Besides the simple reflexes, there is another sort of involuntary and mechanical action. Through practice and repetition, an act may become so habitual as to be done automatically, that is, without being imagined beforehand, and even without conscious impulse. The practised typist responds in this way to the words he is copying. We should notice, however, that this does not mean that the total behavior and state of mind of the typist is mechanical and devoid of impulse. The typist may write the letters {526} mechanically, and if expert may write even words in this way, but all the time he is consciously aiming to copy the passage. His attention and impulse have deserted the fully mastered details and attach themselves to the larger units. In the same way, in signing your name you have no conscious intention or impulse to write each successive letter; but you fully intend to sign your name.

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