On the role of the conscious mind in fantasy and studying the uses, functions and stages of fantasy
Fantasy is an essential part of our thinking. It is imagination in its extremes and shows how far our minds can stretch beyond the normal and the natural. All creativity has an element of fantasy as when an artist paints a nude figure or a poet dreams of a perfect world, even reality itself seems to take on some sort of fantastic or slightly exaggerated form.
Although the presence of fantasy in all creative composition could be a controversial claim and researchers would say that fantasy is a distinct mental process which is revealed only in films, stories, art work that essentially contains supernatural phenomena. All stories or art forms having magic, supernatural elements or scientifically and realistically implausible scenarios could be considered in the genre of fantasy. Yet as we know even in science certain theories as Multiple Worlds theory in quantum physics or theories about extinction of dinosaurs in Biology and biblical theory of Creationism are all based on imagination and elements of fantasy although multiple worlds theory and extinction theory are both strongly supported by facts or equations as well.
Fantasy is almost an essential ingredient in speculative science and with increased human quest for knowledge science is now more about speculation than about reality driven results and interpretation. Fantasy plays a role in science, in religion, mythology, arts and literature, in films and in almost every aspect of our life. In fact in love relationships fantasy forms an essential part of the imagination and trigger emotions. When you incessantly think about a lover in a specific way, you are engaging in fantasy and this sort of fantasy gives mental pleasure and a certain impetus to make the fantasy a reality so fantasy is a precondition to motivation. When you as a student fantasize about a life of success and wealth or fame, you are again fantasizing about your future and this is important in your future road to success.
Thus fantasy is absolutely necessary as in imagination and in extensive fantasy we not only release our unconscious needs and desires but can actively channel them in a way that would help us in the ultimate wish fulfillment. Fantasy lays the road for our future wishes and what we want to do and where we want to go. Without a certain degree of imagination and extensive fantasy we will never be able to attain anything in life. Fantasy is thus necessary as it provides mental impetus to think beyond the normal, the real and the immediate and helps us to shape our future. Fantasy could however slowly become an obsession as for example if you incessantly fantasize about someone or something that could become easily unhealthy and obsessive. Since fantasy itself is an exaggerated mental process, fantasy in only small and healthy doses with a realistic goal would be a positive phenomenon.
Any study in fantasy would have certain distinct goals and some of the ways in which fantasy could be studied within psychology would be directed towards understanding:
Fantasy as genre and as used in arts, literature, philosophy, religion, science
Fantasy as an exaggerated form of imagination or the basis of creativity in our daily life
Fantasy as the root of obsession, mental illness and loss of productivity
Fantasy as the road to understanding our wishes, desires, motivation, beliefs, attitudes and impulses
Studying fantasy as a genre would involve analysis of the elements of fantasy in literature as in the works Tolkien or Rowling and this aspect of fantasy has been successfully handled in literature, sociology and cultural studies. J.R.R Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings or J.K Rowling’s Harry Potter series and recently J Cameron’s Avatar highlight the strong use of fantasy and also its commercial or literary success. In fact the success of fantasy could be because of the basic need to escape from reality as all fantasies provide a temporary escape from reality which we all need. What has been overlooked is the analysis of fantasy as it begins as a positive mental process, conducive to creativity and identifying the point where such fantasy becomes harmful or mentally deteriorating for an individual.
The stages of fantasy and its evolution to creativity would involve a trigger event in the first stages that lead to heightened imagination and fantasy. This fantasy then evolves either to creativity or to some forms of mental preoccupation, illness, paranoia and beliefs about distorted reality. The evolution of imagination to fantasy and further to creativity or mental illness has not been studied extensively in psychology and the study of fantasy should be given as much importance within general psychology as dreams are given in psychoanalysis.
The study of fantasy could thus be on three levels:
1. Identifying the stages in the development of fantasy and the relationships with imagination, creativity and mental illness
2. Identifying the functions of fantasy from release of mental energy as in case of dreams and wish fulfillment although it is also necessary to differentiate the mechanisms of dreams from that of fantasy
3. Identifying the use of fantasy in literature, art, culture, religion, daily life, behaviour and attitudes, love and relationships and possible interpretation through symbolism or other means.
Since fantasy works on a more conscious level than dreams and consists of bizarre or supernatural events and characters, it will not be too useful to define or explain fantasy with psychoanalysis as psychoanalysis is especially effective in dealing with the unconscious. Fantasy in the realm of imagination, only in its exaggerated forms being more about the limits of the conscious mind could need a fundamentally different psychological approach when compared with the unconscious. In fact Freudian psychoanalysis would not be too successful in the interpretation of fantasy. Explaining fantasy would require understanding the conscious mind in its extremes. Since fantasy is primarily a sort of wish fulfillment, fantasy has its positive effects on the mind.
Fantasy, like imagination and associated creative processes aids us in our mental journey and fantasies trigger positive emotions that help in productivity through motivation of individuals. Fantasy could bring out repressed emotions and desires (you may have fancied someone in childhood and you romance someone similar in your fantasies), play out denials of certain facts or events (as you may fantasize your ex lover more after knowing that you will never be with her again) or may be used as a means of sublimation (through fantasy in art and literature or poetry). Thus fantasy could be adequately explained with psychoanalysis at the more functional level as to how fantasy is useful functionally for us. Although at a more structural level where it is important to understand the components of fantasy, psychoanalysis is not adequate as fantasy is about the conscious rather than the unconscious.
In fact the difference between dreams and fantasy is that in fantasy we are consciously aware of our imagination whereas in dreams we are not consciously aware of our imagination.
The differences and similarities between fantasy and dreams will have to be studied further in psychology although imagination would be the common component and imagination plays a role both in unconscious dreaming and conscious fantasy. Imagination seems to precede fantasy and dreams precede imagination although this could be controversial and extensive study would be required. Thus fantasy is an exaggerated form of imagination and imagination is the product of dreams. When fantasy loses its proportion and there is a blurred distinction between fantasy and reality, mental illness takes the form of paranoia or delusion in which fantasy replaces reality or fantasy is considered reality. Thus if a girl repeatedly fantasizes that she is a princess, she might start believing in the fantasy and develop delusion of being actually being a princess.
It is essential that fantasy is recognized and used positively so that children and adults alike can actually use their fantasy for creative work.