What does it mean to not have an imagination?
Think of the writer. The writer makes up, say, conversations. People in real life have conversations. So there are imaginary conversations made up by writers. And there are real conversations that happen between people, that are extemporized in real time through the collaboration of multiple people.
Think of these scenarios:
Scenario 1: A real, collaborative conversation in which Sally is making up, in her mind, things to say, and saying them, and in which Sue is not making anything up and also not saying anything. The history of this conversation will be only one person talking. Its transcript will be everything that Sally says.
Scenario 2: A real, collaborative conversation in which both Sally and Sue are making things up in their heads and saying them.
Scenario 3: An imaginary conversation between two characters. Sally makes this up in her head and says it by writing it down.
Now, anyone who is experiencing these conversations will be subject to their expression; often, those experiencing them will be affected by them. At the very least, those experiencing these conversations will have their reality altered by the very presence of the conversation: their reality is different depending on whether they are aware of, or unaware of, the conversation.
In Heist, two of Mamet's characters go on like this:
--You're a pretty smart fella.
--Ah, not that smart.
--If you're not that smart, how'd you figure it out?
--I tried to imagine a fella smarter than myself. Then I tried to think, "what would he do?"
This is one of the more interesting concepts, and it has everything to do with imagination.
Businesspeople imagine. Writers imagine. Lovers imagine. All of those people are creating worlds in their heads and then trying to make those worlds happen.
Imagination gets a bad rep from some people. Like it's less-than-critical to make things up in your head. But all progression, whether in love or art or business--more accurately: all making--comes from imagination.
Let's go back to the three scenarios above. In scenario 1, Sally is controlling the reality. She is making up the shared reality. What she makes up in her head, which she then says, becomes the extent of what happens. She is making the reality. In scenario 2, both Sally and Sue make up reality. In scenario 3, Sally makes up the whole reality.
What interests me is comparing such scenarios; especially, comparing the levels of inventiveness of people in such scenarios. If you and I are having a conversation and you're not saying anything, then you're not surprising me, you're not inventing things that are affecting me. In most real conversations there's some level of inventiveness on both sides, such that every once in a while each party surprises the other. But then you have weird situations. Like a good writer, say David Mamet. David Mamet can go through a hundred conversations with random people and never be surprised as much as the average David Mamet play would surprise any of those hundred people if they read it. Of course everyone is surprised sometimes. But those extreme examples of inventiveness difference point out a crack in the wall of one of our common ideas about how conversations go. The common idea is that everyone has something surprising to say, that everyone is contributing to the progression of the conversation. That's technically, usually true. But it has a false corollary thought, a thought that goes with it, which is not implied by it, but which [falsely] seems to always go with it. Which is that inventiveness is located by person. That the unit of containment of inventiveness is the person. That the existence of an individuatable person is the condition by which inventiveness arrives. And it's not.
Inventiveness is relative. When you and I are talking, I am--perhaps not literally, but effectively--imagining what you might say. I have a model of you in my mind. When you deviate from my model, I'm surprised. Those are the moments in which--and that is the way that--you redefine my reality. That's how you make my reality bigger. When I think something and what you do contradicts and expands my ideas. Usually, in mundane ways, we're expanding each other's realities constantly.
But there are extreme cases..there are scenarios, in business, in love, in art, in just plain conversation, where the difference in inventiveness between the parties is such that, consistently, one side surprises the other..and consistently, the other side bores the one. In these cases, the locus of inventiveness is not the person. In these cases, inventiveness is not distributed evenly across the persons. In extreme cases, there is more than two person's worth of inventiveness--or invention--within (or controlled by) one person, where there is [sometimes much] less than one person's worth of inventiveness controlled by or associated with one person. There are pairings of people like this: on the one hand you have Leo Tolstoy; on the other hand you have a logic-fragmented sub-literate person. Think of their experiences: while Tolstoy has something to learn from every subliterate person he could possibly meet (because they've each had different life experiences), when it comes to certain types of expression, nothing the subliterate person says will ever expand the world of Leo Tolstoy, and everything Leo Tolstoy says will expand the world of the subliterate person.
Reality is flowing in one direction, and that direction is determined by imagination. Imagination flows from areas of greater imagination into areas of lesser imagination. If you have imagined less than I have, then, as we interact, reality will be flowing from me to you more than reality will be flowing from you to me. In typical cases reality will be flowing in both directions. But, as we imagine, as we invent, as we innovate--as wemake--it is imagination that determines what is real.
This is why I say you have to live in your imagination if you have one. And, further, if you don't have one, then you have to live in someone else's. Reconsider scenario 1. Sally is making things up and saying them. Sue is doing neither. Sally is living in her imagination. Sue is also living in Sally's imagination. Imagination is relative. To have an imagination means that you are thinking of things that other people aren't. As we collaborate, publicly, on the construction of reality, it is the most imaginative who have the most effect. Hence: to the degree to which you have an imagination, that is the degree to which you are living in it.
Our mental/spiritual culture (definitely--and the whole universe possibly) is like Mamet's character: none of us are that smart, but through some magic we are able to imagine a fellow smarter than ourselves..and try to think what he would do.