The Age of the Essay - Paul Graham
September 2004 Remember the essays you had to write in high school
In Hamlet and Macbeth the scene opens with superstition; but, in each it is not merely different, but opposite. In the first it is connected with the best and holiest feelings; in the second with the shadowy, turbulent, and unsanctified cravings of the individual will. Nor is the purpose the same; in the one the object is to excite, whilst in the other it is to mark a mind already excited. Superstition, of one sort or another, is natural to victorious generals; the instances are too notorious to need mentioning. There is so much of chance in warfare, and such vast events are connected with the acts of a single individual,the representative, in truth, of the efforts of myriads, and yet to the public and, doubtless, to his own feelings, the aggregate of all,that the proper temperament for generating or receiving superstitious impres-sions is naturally produced. Hope, the master element of a commanding genius, meeting with an active and combining intellect, and an imagination of just that degree of vividness which disquiets and impels the soul to try to realize its images, greatly increases the creative power of the mind; and hence the images become a satisfying world of themselves, as is the case in every poet and original philosopher:but hope fully gratified, and yet, the ele-mentary basis of the passion remaining, becomes fear;
and, indeed, the general, who must often feel, even though he may hide it from his own consciousness, bow large a share chance had in his successes, may very naturally be irresolute in a new scene, where he knows that all will depend on his own act and election.
Macbeth Essay at Absolute Shakespeare
We all recognize this phenomenon from our experience. Attention, we might say, lights up the neural networks subserving the image of Scotch tape, activating our image-making abilities. Over time the practice of attending in this way, of visualizing or repeatedly running a signal through the network subserving a particular image strengthens or "facilitates" the connections. And because visualizing a scrub jay, for example, activates the same set of neurons as when one is actually looking at a jay, the practice of visualization facilitates the sight of jays in the sensible, material world. In other words, imagining something makes it easier to see it, just as seeing something makes it easier to imagine it. The process between one's active imagination and seeing with clarity is reciprocal and co-creative. For the Dagara of West Africa, imagination and reality are minimally distinguished. "To imagine something, to closely focus one's thoughts upon it, has the potential to bring that something into being," writes Malidoma Some, a Dagara ritualist. In this sense, imagination is the power "to make happen" to create reality.