How Do We Define Imagination?

"The most profound questions of our existence cannot be answered through a mere collection of concrete evidence; at some point, whether we are theologians, automobile mechanics, dentists or draftsmen each of us reaches a border of the verifiable world, and every one of us leaps. A great deal of what we know, we know only through our imagination--and that knowledge is crucial to our lives."

A great reminder from Peter Turchi in his book Maps of the Imagination that reason can only take us so far, that we rely on our imaginations, often times much more than we realize or want to give credence to. And it is difficult to characterize that type of knowing; how do we define or talk about imaginative knowledge without attempting to concretize it, and so find ourselves back in the realm of reason? And how do we remove the barrier that imagination is simply "make believe," that if it can't be verified, it can't be true? 

Author Sven Birkerts, in Changing the Subject, suggests that digital technologies and our enmeshed reliance on them may be eroding our capacity not only to imagine, but to create works of the imagination. Is it imagination that is truly in jeopardy? Because we all use our imaginations constantly. When you tell me about your workday, I use my imagination to fill in the gaps, since I wasn't there to share it with you. We use this type of imagination all day long and wouldn't be able to function as humans if we lost it. So perhaps what we need is a definition of imagination, a way to categories different types or functions of imagination. If Birkerts is suggesting, as I suspect he is, that what is waning is our ability to synthesize our modern experience and arrive at new and culturally meaningful ways of expressing it in our arts, I think he may be right. That is a different category of imagination, one that would take us into Turchi's definition of imagination as a leap of faith, a knowing nourished by intuition, acute observation and experience, then bashed about in the artists's crucible and repurposed as a work of imagination, of art.