Some remarks on the Technique of Similarity and Difference in Imaginative Knowledge

It is important to remember that when we speak of supersensible experiences, it really just relates to anything that transcends the realm of our five classical senses. In anthroposophical methodology these are usually thinking, feeling, and willing.

What is important is that the way we think about these kinds of experiences must be akin to the way we think about classical experiences of the physical kind. Just like you wouldn’t doubt that a rock is real, a spiritual scientist has to treat an emotion or a thought the same way.

Basically, this means acknowledging that a thought or an emotion exists, and that it takes on a certain nature. One way of putting this, is to point out that you can tell that an emotion is real, because it can lead to consequences in the physical world that wouldn’t have been there, had we not had them.

We often talk about depression as a kind of illness, but we rarely talk about gloom or despair as actual entities – this is something a spiritual researcher would do. In anthroposophical methodology, the physical observation of phenomena is dropped, and imagination takes its place.

What is an Imagination?


So what is imagination? Just like in physical observation, we have mental pictures of imaginations, and this is usually how we uncover them at first; any mental picture is the mental picture of an imagination. The mental picture serves as a medium through which we can imaginatively perceive its imaginative origin. A mental picture is therefore always like seeing an imagination on the water’s reflection.

There is a point in one’s training where one learns so to speak to turn from the reflection towards the source of the reflection and this we call imaginative knowledge. This does however presume some conceptual knowledge of that which is imagined. So how does this come about?

How is conceptual knowledge of Imaginations acquired?

There are several ways, but the simplest way to explain it is that an imagination is always one, so by comparing different mental pictures, we get a good idea about the different aspects that belong to an imagination or not; whatever introduces a division belongs to another imagination.

In some sense all imaginations belong together; Imaginations form an organic whole, so that if you can have imaginative knowledge of anything at all, you can essentially tap into imaginative knowledge of everything – in theory.

On the other hand, two mental pictures are different by the very fact that they are two. They are one in as far as they are one imagination, but the differences in modality show that they are moulded by different imaginations. This way, by having say a mental picture of a chair, and a mental picture of another chair, it is quite possible to come to an imaginative understanding of the chairs by looking at where they differ and how they differ, and this difference will again open up for looking at other imaginations that created their differences.

Typical training towards Imagination

A typical practice in occult training is to contemplate the point, the line, the surface, and the figure. By definition, a point has position but no extension, a line on the other hand has extension: length – but no breadth. A cross consists of two lines that intersect at a central point at a right angle. Imaginations are infinite in their nature, and so an imaginative cross consists of rays rather than lines (mathematically speaking).

Such a cross therefore, when it symbolises the directions, fathom them. And what is also important to understand: as imaginations they are based on the idea of the point as having no extension. The line is therefore an unextended extension in a certain sense, just as extended as the plant within the plant seed, and on the other hand it is the ground of all extension in the sense of length.

Once this deeper reality of the imaginative is understood, we see that it is the matrix (womb) out of which any sense of extension at all is born. Once this becomes clear to us, imaginative knowledge becomes an exploration of the inner nature of nature itself.

Imagination as the Mother of the Physical

These are simply some excerpts from the kind of line of reasoning imaginative thinking can take. I wanted to point towards how extension and the cross also have relevance for all kinds of crosses, that is also to say the cross that is ours to bear, the cross of Christ, or the Rosicrucian cross, but that’s a subject for another time.

Another aspect of imagination is that these figures, which I have considered mostly mathematically and geometrically here, don’t need to be cold and dry. They can be warm and breathing, living and subtle, speaking a language that we may only grow to understand by developing an inspirational understanding of these subjects; a shift as radical, as the shift from the physical to the imaginative.

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