Better than Any Camera
February 21, 2018

“Imagining is within our power whenever we wish.”
Aristotle, On the Soul

Studying human nature often gives occasion for wonder and gratitude. This line from Aristotle really struck me.

We have been studying what he calls the interior sense powers. One of them is the power of imagination. Simply put, it is the power of retaining and recalling what our five exterior senses have perceived. It is also able rearrange, as we can be creative in forming new images. This latter ability is remarkable in itself.

Yet first of all we might wonder at our ability simply to retain images of what we have perceived. Anywhere and anytime I have available to me a store of things that I have seen, heard, and touched.

Astounding architecture, stunning scenes in nature: sunrises and sunsets, the woods in fall, a great oak in spring, a flourishing garden, a sow giving birth.

I think what makes me most grateful are the images I have of the people I love. My wife smiling. Each of my children as an infant, and a toddler, and a child… My parents and grandparents at various ages in various contexts. My friends, my teachers, and my students from long ago, and from last week.

Where would I be without them, and where would I be without their images that I retain? This latter is a key way they remain present to me. Imagination is such a wonder! I don’t know exactly where or how these images are stored. But I know they are always there for me, just one thought away.

Surely this power is not given to me so that I can escape to another time and place. It is given to me so that in a very real way I can continue to have in the present all that has been in the past.

~ ~ ~

Aristotle (384-322 B.C.), student of Plato, tutor of Alexander the Great, has been considered by many to be the greatest ancient philosopher.

Image: Neuschwanstein castle, Bavaria. Built by King Ludwig II starting in 1869.

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  1. What a blessing, the imagination. And it can bring a tear to the eye for a lost world as well.

    1. Dan, I know what you mean… but perhaps the most important aspects of that lost world are still in our reach…

  2. What a great reminder! Funny but this article made me want to go look up how to improve memory and many of the things mentioned are right in your wheelhouse. They mentioned real foods, brain exercises like learning new language, meditation, driving without gps. I am so grateful Mara loves taking photos cause my brain is in desperate need of some exercise 😉

    1. Brandon,
      Indeed, those methods of improvement sound quite good! This made me too think about how to improve my memory. We can compare notes in a little while…
      With best wishes to your whole family!

  3. “It is given to me so that in a very real way I can continue to have in the present all that has been in the past.” Daily I grieve my mother’s gradual loss of this due to dementia. You put into words things I have in my heart which I’m unable to articulate. Thank you for helping me in that way as I sort through these difficult days, weeks…years.

    1. Nancy,
      Thank you very much for sharing this. Right now I will share this: my father too had increasing dementia for the last few years of his life, and it was a trauma to me (and others) quite unlike anything else I have known. I wrote something about it, that perhaps I will post here soon. Regardless of that, I want to say that I try to have confidence in this: even the trauma of such dementia is somehow a gift to each one of those involved. I know it is very hard to see that. I will remember you each in prayer. With best wishes.

      1. Thank you for your kindness. It means a great deal to know others (especially ones we don’t even know) are praying. I look forward to your post on this topic along with the rest. Always a blessing!