Our eyes see visual light bouncing off of objects and we interpret it in a particular way that allows us to “see” but what we see is not actually what’s there; it’s what our consciousness interprets from the light waves. All that’s really “there” is energy interwoven with energy: matter and the void. We are constructed to live within these webs of energy and to perceive them as we do, but that doesn’t mean that we can actually apprehend the real nature of matter or energy. The imagination is another sensory organ.
I have a hard time writing about this because I don’t feel like I have the words for it. I keep using terms like “real” and “reality” – what I mean by “reality” is “all that part of existence that is not self-generated.” It’s what keeps on happening when I’m not there. “Unreal” goes away when I’m not thinking about it. It’s normal to think of the world in terms of “in here” (the mind) and “out there” (reality) and to conceive of these as being entirely different categories of existence. It makes sense for regular functioning and is a good practical model of the world. Like anything that makes intuitive sense (like, oh, say, the particle/wave dichotomy) it gets all weird and fuzzy around the edges. Fairies live in those weird and fuzzy areas. The imagination perceives real things that the other senses do not.
We perceive the world with our senses and interpret it in a way that is useful. Most people call this “reality,” and for most purposes, that’s enough. The imagination works on a similar principle. Your imagination “sees” a fairy the way your eyes “see” the computer monitor in front of you. Now, we’ve been trained to think of what our eyes see as real and what our imagination sees as unreal, mostly because we can usually pretty much agree on what our eyes are seeing but imaginary perception is not so subject to agreement and is highly susceptible to subjective input. But it’s sort of like pareidola – you can see patterns that aren’t there, and even will them to be so – even a photograph is a pareidola, because it isn’t the thing it depicts – but, if your vision is properly functioning, you can’t help but perceive things and pareidola is not evidence of visual pathology. It’s part of normal function. The daydream and other such willed and internally driven acts of imagination are a sort of pareidola – like looking at pictures. We are taught that this is all there is to imagination, but it’s not so. It’s possible to stop looking at pictures and see the real things that imagination has to show us.