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Which comes first: imagination or fantasy?

And what's the difference between the two?

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Which comes first: imagination or fantasy?

Asked by Mike Valentine of Fort Mill, South Carolina

The word "imagination" comes from the Latin word imaginare and means "to form an image or to represent".

The imagination is the synthesis of mental images into new ideas. It is the power of the mind to form mental representations of a thought, concept, dream, symbol, or fantasy. The imagination has the power to create or re-create any sensation perceived or possibly perceived by the mind. Since sensation is reliant upon the body and the brain, the imagination cannot be entirely separated from either.

Imagination is not the opposite of reality. Instead, it is a means of adapting to reality. As such, imagination is essential to reality. Mental life could not exist without the imagination. Certainly creativity would be impossible without the imagination.

The imagination is one of the most unique and important aspects of being a human being.

The word "fantasy" comes from the Greek word phantazesthai and means "picture to oneself" - and that is exactly what it is.

A fantasy is a product of the imagination. It is an imagined sequence of events or mental images (for example, a daydream). It is a form of a story from the self with one common factor: The subject imagining the fantasy appears as one of the actors in the story.

A fantasy may originate from conflicts, desires, frustrations, or wishes when the imagination interacts with reality. A fantasy may substitute for action or pave the way for later action.

In Freudian terms, the fantasy may itself afford gratification for id impulses (our darkest and most hidden drives), may serve the ego as a defense (our recognised self), or may take over superego functions by providing the imagery on which concepts are based (our self we project to others).

A fantasy can be a conscious or unconscious construction. When it is unconscious, it is sometimes spelled "phantasy". Again, mental life could not exist without fantasy. And fantasy is also a unique and important aspect of being a human being.

Stephen Juan, Ph.D. is an anthropologist at the University of Sydney. Email your Odd Body questions to s.juan@edfac.usyd.edu.au

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