Leviathan Paraphrased – Part 1, Chapter 2

CHAPTER TWO: OF IMAGINATION

Nobody doubts this truth: when something is at rest, unless something else stirs it, it will be at rest forever. The opposite of this – that something in motion will stay that way unless something else stops it – is true for the same reason, namely, that nothing can change itself. However this opposite isn’t so easily agreed to. People judge all things, even other people, by themselves. They find themselves undergoing pain and exhaustion after motion, and so they think that everything else grows weary of motion. But do they try to see if there is another motion that explains this “desire of rest” that they find in themselves? For this very reason, the schools say that heavy bodies fall down because they have an appetite to rest, and that they wish to conserve their nature in their proper place – as if inanimate objects could have an appetite or know what’s best for their conservation!

When something is in motion, it moves (unless something else hinders it) eternally. Anything that does hinder it doesn’t do so in an instant. It takes time; it slows by degrees until it finally stops completely. Think of the water. Once the wind ceases, the waves keep rolling for a long time after. The same is true of motion within the internal parts of a person, in sight or in dreams and so forth. If the object we see is removed, or we shut our eyes, we still have an image of the thing seen, though this image is more obscure than actual sight. This is what the Latins call Imagination. That term applies to the image made during sight and, imperfectly, the impression made by other senses as well. The Greeks call it fancy, emphasizing appearance, and is a better term to use of all the senses.

Imagination, then, is nothing but deteriorating sense, and is found in people and many other living creatures, both when we sleep and wake.

This deterioration of sense in people who are awake is more like an obscuring of sense rather than a decay of motion, like the sun obscures starlight. The stars still shine in day and night! But our eyes, ears, and other organs are struck by so many different blows from external objects that only the strongest is sensible. So when the light of the sun is dominant, we aren’t affected by the action of the stars. And if an object is removed from our eyes, even though its impression might remain with us, there are other objects present affecting our organs of sense, and they obscure the imagination of the past as surely as a person’s voice in the noise of the day. Because of this, we know that the longer it is after the sight or sense of any object, the weaker the imagination of the object becomes. A person’s body is constantly changing within, and its internal motions serve to destroy the parts which sense moved. The distance of either time or place has the same exact effect on us. When we look at something at a distance, it seems dim, and its parts are not distinct – if someone speaks from a distance, the voice is weak. In the same way, the distance of time erodes our imagination of the past. We lose streets in the cities we used to walk; we lose the details of actions in which we were participants. Should we want to express the actual thing in our decaying sense, we speak of imagination, but to emphasize the decay, we say Memory – the sense is fading, old, and past. Imagination and memory, then, are one thing, meaning different things because of different considerations.

Accumulated memory is called Experience.

I stress this: imagination is only of things formerly perceived by sense. We do this either all at once, or by parts at several times. Simple imagination is imagination of the whole object, as it was presented to our senses before – this is “all-at-once” imagination. The second way is compounded, such as having seen a person at one time, and a horse at another, our minds compose something called a centaur. A person may compound his own self-image with the image of another person’s actions, such as when a man imagines himself a Hercules or a Napoleon (something that happens often to those who read romantic literature). This is a compound imagination, a fiction of the mind.

Another kind of imagination is when something makes a very strong impression through our senses. When we look at the sun, an image of the sun remains before our eyes a long time after; when someone spends hours upon hours concentrating on geometrical figures, they can lie awake and have the images of lines and angles float in their eyes. This type of fancy doesn’t have a particular name – it’s not something that people have ever talked about much.

The imaginations of sleeping people we call dreams. These, like all other imaginations, have been either totally or by parts in our senses. When we are asleep, the brain and nerves, the necessary organs of sense, are numbed with sleep. They cannot be easily moved by the actions of external objects. Therefore any imagination, and therefore any dream, must consist solely of the agitation of the internal parts of a person’s body. It’s this internal disturbance which keeps the brain and nerves in motion, and the imaginations thus stirred up make it appear that we are awake. There is nothing to relieve us of this impression – the brain is numbed to the external world. No external impression can obscure these internal impressions, and so a dream, in the silence of sense, is clearer than our waking thoughts.

For this reason it is extremely difficult (some think it impossible) to distinguish between Sense and Dreaming precisely. This is how I prefer to do so: in dreams, I don’t usually think of the same people, places, objects, and actions as I do when awake. I also don’t recognize a long or consistent train of thought during dreams. When awake, I can easily recognize the absurdity of dreams, but I never dream of the absurdity of my waking thoughts. When I’m awake, I know that I’m not dreaming, but when I dream, I think I’m awake.

Dreams are caused by the disturbance of internal parts of the body, so difference disturbances cause different dreams. Lying in the cold will breed dreams of fear, which raises the image of some fearful object. The brain moves the internal parts, and the parts the brain. When we’re awake, anger causes parts of our body to heat up; when we’re asleep, if those same parts are overheated, it causes anger, and raises the image of an enemy in the brain. Natural kindness when awake causes desire, and desire heats other parts of the body – so too much heat in those areas while asleep will raise desire, and cause an imagination of a received kindness. So to sum up, dreams are the reverse of waking imagination – the motion begins at one end while we are awake and at the other when we dream.

The most difficult time to distinguish between our dreams and waking thoughts is when we accidentally do not recognize that we have fallen asleep. This happens easily to someone troubled with fearful thought or a muddied conscience, and who then goes to sleep without going through the habits of bedtime – as one who sleeps in a chair. Someone who has taken the time to industriously lay down to sleep and then experiences an exorbitant fancy can hardly consider it anything but a dream. Think of Marcus Brutus (someone who owed his life and station to Caesar, who was his favorite, and yet who murdered him). At Philippi, the night before he went into battle against Augustus Caesar, he saw a fearful apparition. Some historians call this event a vision, but under the given circumstances it could have been a short dream. As he sat in his tent, pensive and disturbed by the horror of his rash act, it wasn’t hard for him, sleeping in the cold, to dream of what most frightened him. And as the dream caused him to wake by degrees, so the apparition slowly vanished – and having no certainty of his falling asleep, he had no reason to think it a dream, and so it became a “vision”. This isn’t an uncommon thing. Even people who are completely awake, if they are craven or superstitious, thinking of fearful tales, and alone in the dark, even they are subject to similar fancies, and think they see spirits and dead men’s ghosts walking in churchyards. This is either their fancy only, or else the trickery of people who would make use of such superstitious fear to go disguised in the night to places at which they wouldn’t want others to know that they frequent.

This ignorance of how to interpret dreams and other strong fancies from vision and sense gave birth to the greater part of religions of the Gentiles in times past. They worshipped satyrs, fauns, nymphs, and the like; and even today, people give credence to things like fairies, ghosts, goblins, and the power of witches. Considering witches, I don’t think their witchcraft has any real power, but they are justly punished for their false belief that they can do such mischief, which is accompanied by their intent to do so if they could. This makes their trade more a new religion than a craft or a science. Fairies and walking ghosts have been either taught or not refuted in order to ensure the continued use of exorcism, crosses, holy water, and other such inventions of spiritual people. Without a doubt, God can make unnatural apparitions, but to think that God does this so often that we need to fear these things more than the natural disasters that God can also avert or release is to stray away from Christian thought. Evil people use this known power of God to say anything that serves their purpose, even though they know the untruth of what they speak. Wise people would do good to believe them no further than reason makes their statements credible. If all these superstitious fears of spirits were taken away, along with fortune-telling from dreams, false prophecies, and all the other ways that the unscrupulous employ to abuse the general populace, people would be much more suited than they are for civil obedience.

This task ought to be the work of the schools, but they actually nourish such thoughts. They don’t understand imagination and how the sense work, and so what they receive, they teach. They say imagination rises of itself, and has no cause. Others say they rise from the will, and good thoughts are breathed (inspired) into a person by God, and evil thoughts by the Devil. Some say the senses receive the “species” of things and then deliver them to the sense, and the sense gives them to the fancy, and the fancy to the memory, and the memory to the judgment, just as people pass things back and forth, and thus with many words they keep anything from being understood.

The imagination that is raised in a person (or any creature that possesses the ability to imagine) by words or other invented signs, is what we usually call Understanding. This is seen in both people and animals. A dog can learn to understand the call of its master, and so will many animals. A person’s understanding is unique through the range of thinking by the sequencing and framing of the names of things into positive and negative statements, and also other forms of speech. I shall talk of this kind of understanding right now.

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