I would like to know how true is the following sentence:

One can only imagine combinations of things he has experienced through his senses.

It is important to state that this sentence is about imagination, not about thinking boundaries.

As examples:

  1. You can think about a universe with 4 dimensions, but you can't imagine it.
  2. You can think about infra-red radiation, but you can only imagine it as a combination of known colors.

2 Answers 2


Many people who have tried psychedelics would probably disagree with that statement based on their experiences alone. There are various such accounts available if you search, such as on Erowid. On the other hand, perhaps the statement holds for average persons in "normal" states of mind. From an evolutionary perspective, there would be very little use in imagining things fundamentally different from normal life (or normal reality), so you would expect such experiences to be limited to abnormal states of mind.

To think about this question more philosophically, there are endless possible illogical (or unobserved) "realities" to be envisioned while there are perhaps only a finite number of true realities. This concept is related to the idea that you cannot prove a negative such as "There is no hidden pink unicorn ghost floating above you right now". Because the unobservable possibilities are endless while the observable ones are much more finite, the mind would be at a total waste to spend time processing the unobservable possibilities. This is not to say the mind is incapable of it, but rather that there is strong selective pressure to prevent such processing under normal conditions.


Is this a sentence in Sophie's World? It is more of an empirical thought. The weird thing about it is it cannot be "empirically" proved, since it's not something material, or can be made materialistic. All that can be done is to discuss about it. I, myself, have thought about it quite a lot, and haven't reached an answer. I cannot disagree nor agree. Imagine an artist, of fantasy things. They, let's assume, paint a unique kind of a monster or something, though it's not something they've seen before, i.e. experienced, it is something combined of what they've seen before somehow, somewhere. Yet, that same artist may come up with something never ever existed, nor they've experienced it in any way before, but did imagine it and made a paint from it. I haven't been able to go further :D I hope it's helpful.

  • $\begingroup$ And I suggest to ask this question in Philosophy site here, rather than Cognitive-sciences....it'd open an amazing discussion between rationalists and empiricists. $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 3, 2016 at 20:25
  • $\begingroup$ It's not of Sophie's world, I thought about it but well... it might be a combination of things I have already experienced! :D // I asked this in here because I wanted to know if it had already been studied from the psychological point of view, but thanks for your recommendation $\endgroup$
    – Felix L.
    Commented Jan 3, 2016 at 21:36
  • $\begingroup$ Had this thought today too. An empirical answer would be utmost relevant to the qualia debate. BTW, the philosophy SE does have the question: philosophy.stackexchange.com/questions/15644/… $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 6, 2021 at 8:08

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.