The Idler Guide to Imagination with Mark Vernon

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The Idler Guide to Imagination, with Mark Vernon, is a practical and passionate plea for an imaginative approach to life. It shows how imagination connects to and opens on to reality. It considers the insights of thinkers including Shakespeare and Einstein, Blake and Coleridge. It provides a history of this most expansive of faculties, an exploration of its role in science and the arts, and a how-to set of tips. We need imagination. As Ted Hughes put it, imagination is “the most essential bit of machinery we have if we are going to live the lives of human beings”.

Lesson 1 – What is imagination? – 20 mins
Imagination is very often reduced to “mere fancy” or “vague imaginings” in common speech. But those who have truly understood and used imagination have embraced it as a crucial, wonderful faculty delivering understanding, meaning and sight. In the first lesson, we examine just what imagination is and show how various thinkers, notably Samuel Taylor Coleridge, have teased out its truth-bearing capabilities from the fun, the fabulous and the fleeting.

Lesson 2 – Imagination in art and science – 24 mins
It’s natural to think of creative activities as imaginative, and they are. But science is a tremendous imaginative undertaking, too. In the second lesson, we explore Virginia Woolf’s crucial insight concerning the artfulness of Shakespeare and how Einstein encircled the world with his imaginative capacities. The great scientist also left a series of indicators showing how to develop the kind of imagination that inspires wonder, pleasure and knowledge.

Lesson 3 – Imagination and inner life – 29 mins
Imagination is consciousness raising. It opens up an intermediate reality drawn on by novelists, poets, therapists and philosophers. In the third lesson, we consider how to make imagination part and parcel of everyday life. William Blake provides an excellent case in point, whilst psychotherapy shows us how imagination helps us relate to others, discover the surprising depths of our own souls, and to step into the inside of the whole world.

About the tutor

Dr Mark Vernon is a psychotherapist with a private practice in London, as well as working at the Maudsley Hospital. He is also a writer, broadcaster and teacher. He has a PhD in philosophy, and degrees in theology and physics. His most recent books include – The Idler Guide To Ancient Philosophy (Idler Books), Love: All That Matters (Hodder) and Jung: How To Believe (Guardian Shorts) – and he has books on friendship, belief and the good life too. Mark contributes regularly to publications in the UK, including the Guardian and Church Times, and also broadcasts on the BBC. He began his professional life as a priest in the Church of England. For more visit,