In human consciousness, the imagination plays an all-encompassing role. Not only is imagination responsible for both memory recall and anticipation foresight, but also is the unifying force that orders/organizes the manifold of current sensation. Without imagination, our immediate experience would be incomprehensibly chaotic.
“Synthesis is the mere operation of the imagination–a blind but indispensable function of the soul, without which we should have no cognition whatever, but of the working of which we are seldom even conscious.” – Immanuel Kant
An aspect of Kant’s transcendental aesthetic, that space and time are subjective forms of human sensation, has always been problematic. If space and time are built into our mental structure as a necessary foundation for any thought to occur, why would this necessarily mean that space and time are not also part of external reality? This substantial conundrum actually has a formal name: the Neglected Alternative.
“Nature can be thought of as a closed system whose mutual relations do not require the expression of the fact that they are thought about.” – Alfred North Whitehead
Given the limits of human capacity, complete understanding of reality must remain indefinite. This significant element of obscurity contributes to the appeal of metaphysics. Open to continuous reinterpretation, knowledge uncertainty promotes endless speculation, a rich source of aesthetic discovery.
“By having intuitions is meant simply that we have reached certain conclusions, but are vague as to the mental processes and reasons which have led us to these conclusions.” – W.T. Stace
Objectivity persists independent of the presence any individual consciousness. A sentient being has a partial window view into objectivity based on the structure and function of sensor receptors and associated mental processing. Just because this access must necessarily be narrow does not negate its authenticity. Appearances are not separate from reality, but rather are an incomplete subset of reality. Aesthetics can change the parameters of the window frame.
“Human reason has this peculiar fate that in one species of its knowledge it is burdened by questions which, as prescribed by the very nature of reason itself, it is not able to ignore, but which, as transcending all its powers, it is also not able to answer.” – Immanuel Kant
The imagination freely harmonizes in cognition when it is unconstrained by the concepts of understanding. In imaginative free-play, when under the influence of the dynamically sublime, we become aware of our supersensible nature. By becoming aware of potential extending beyond the corporeal realm, aesthetics reveals the dimension of human freedom.
“In our encounter with vast formless objects, we are led to estimate the greatness of their magnitude by reference to the absolute measure – namely, infinity as a whole.” – Paul Crowther
For Kant, the aesthetic experience of beauty depends on the harmonic free-play of imagination, uninhibited by concept but accentuated by pleasure. Nevertheless, to function as ‘free harmonies’ such an experience of beauty would seem to require ideas. This leads to a need to distinguish between a constitutive concept and a normative idea. Concepts are the primary categories of the understanding, attendant to specific sensible instances. As sense perceptions conform to concepts, the categories serve as ‘rules’ allowing us to identify common relations between representations. In this formulation, the understanding is the mental faculty through which knowledge obtains, enabling thought of objects. Ideas are higher-level thoughts that frame other thoughts, but do not form fundamental categories of the understanding. Ideas are thus representations that give rise to metaphysical beliefs. Ideas are special thoughts, which arise out of our knowledge of the empirical world, yet seem to point beyond observable nature to some transcendent realm.
“Reason, when employed in the field of experience, does not stand in need of criticism, because its principles are subjected to the continual test of empirical observation.” – Immanuel Kant
Kant uses the expression manifold to refer to the numerous varied data streams supplied to the mind through sensation. These various temporal streams of information must be organized and unified for any coherent experience. This unification is accomplished through the synthetic activity of the imagination regulated by understanding and reason.
“It may simply be said that what is needed for two events to be cause and effect as we understand them is that the probability of the second, given the first, is higher than the probability of the second, given the absence of the first.” – Ted Honderich
We ascend from particular perceptions to universal apprehensions by forming empirical concepts that compare immediate environmental quintessence with memory.
“The conceptions of pure reason are not obtained by reflection, but by inference or conclusion.” – Immanuel Kant
Many complex issues
As a distinctively human enterprise, both sensual and intellectual aptitudes combine to make aesthetic perception possible. Many questions arise in search of explication. Does the quest for beauty in the service of creativity connote that aesthetic demeanor is intellectual? Beyond this distinction, how is the intellect further split between operative modes? Are conditions outside subjectivity required for any experience, contributing to a repository of information available for unconscious processing? In advancing spirituality, how does the creative process balance invention with discovery?
“The I think must be able to accompany all my representations.” – Immanuel Kant
Connatural knowledge associated with emotion bestows intentionality to artwork, as creative intuition and beauty are intricately entwined. Because objects exist independently of human experience, they are never themselves ontologically exhausted. This inexhaustibility implies that human perceptual relations always contain hidden potential, as a kind of spirituality accessible aesthetically.
“Even the most bizarre combinations of entities are a reality never exhausted by any perception or use of this combination.” – Graham Harman