Close your eyes and mentally envision your house. You see it perfectly, don’t you? The mind tends to see things whole and complete, just like the mental image of your house.
Now, on a separate piece of paper draw a picture of your house. How closely does the picture resemble your house? How closely does it resemble your “mental picture?” Close your eyes again and retrieve the mental image of your house. Still perfect, isn’t it?
But why can’t you draw it perfectly? Is it simply because you’re not an artist? Or are there details about your house actually missing from your base of knowledge? — details which seem, however, to be present in your “mental picture.”
If you have a perfect mental picture, yet by proof (drawing) uncover the fact that you are missing details in your knowledge, what does this mean? Is your mind playing tricks on you?
Ideas, the Phantom Movers
The mind many times assimilates images, or ideas, which seem “whole” and “complete.” But by attempting to present those ideas or images in reality you may discover that they aren’t complete after all. Like phantoms they may only have the appearance of being real.
Can we claim anything good about the mind’s generating ideas, or images, which are phantom-like? Or is it an unwanted imperfection of the mind?
I believe that phantoms are there to influence your motivation, your choices, and your actions. Phantoms aren’t “tricks on the mind” but rather useful products of the mind, which enable you to intuit something meaningful on which to act.
Phantoms at Work
To gain a better grasp of this “phantom metaphor” think of a novelist who begins with a general idea (the phantom) and a blank piece of paper. As he begins to write his plot unfolds, details come to mind, and his characters become more real. The substance of his story develops as he shapes his words. Their form (or meaning) feed back to the mind and inspire further thought, thereby giving corporeal existence to the phantom.
Or consider the musician who uses his instrument as a musical “scratch pad,” trying out ideas by listening to the sounds of his notes, evaluating both their fit and their beauty. The sounds from his musical “scratch pad” return through the ears to the mind and enhance the very ideas providing the initial inspiration.
While ideas galvanize the effort, effort in turn helps the ideas to take a more complete form. Ideas influence form, and form itself influences ideas. The creation affects the creator.
The Mind’s Nature
Ideas come in many forms: ideas of invention, of design, of organization, of plans, of art. Common among them all is their originator, the human mind. And since the mind has a specific nature, all ideas, ranging from politics to art, are affected by and constrained by that nature.
The mind enjoys engaging with reality. Ideas benefit from the sensorial relationship consummated through work. And the purpose of the work is not merely to expose the mind’s ideas but also to feed information to the mind for further development of those ideas.
In every field of thought and discovery an important relationship between work and thought exists. Inventors tinker, artists sketch, architects model, and writer’s draft.
It’s no surprise to find that the most talented thinkers have also been makers and doers. From inventors to politicians, ideas seem to have been wrought, tempered and fought for with the muscle of work – whether that work be in the form of tinkering, sketching, writing or the like.
In his book Reading the Mind of God James Trefil writes the following about the famous German star-gazer William Herschel: “One thing I have noticed about people who have this sort of gift [something he calls magic hands] is that they enjoy getting their hands dirty – they like to build the equipment they use. To them the activity is more play than work, in fact. This attitude has important consequences. There can be little doubt, for example, that the intuition that aided Hershel in his discovery of Uranus was enhanced by the fact that he had built the telescope himself, and knew its idiosyncrasies.”
The Phantom Revisited
Since phantoms seem so real, thinkers often mistake them as such, never working to release them from the mind and give them a full independent life. But the phantom’s true purpose is to stimulate the thinker. They are a thinker’s “starting point.”
Phantoms should inspire you to begin drafting your ideas, modeling your mental images, painting your pictures, and writing your stories. Don’t confuse phantoms with fully developed, sound ideas, but enjoy them for what they really are – inspiration.
Levi Hill, Copyright 1993-2003