Secrets and the imagination

‘Secrets’, by Beatriz Martin Vidal.

A poetic and evocative exploration of children’s imaginary worlds, this finely illustrated book depicts children in a reflective mood, with a recurring motif of birds. In several images, the children dress up as birds; in others, actual birds (perhaps a surrogate for childhood imagination) fly close by – sometimes merging with the children – and guide the children “to magical places and wonderful things”. The elliptical text suggests that the birds “will lead you to discover what you are, and what you can become.”

This intriguing book has an air of mystery. It would probably baffle young children, but would be a provocative stimulus for older children, adolescents and adults.

Image by Beatriz Martin Vidal.

Metaphysics of the imagination

  • What is imagination?
  • What is the difference between imagining something (e.g. flying) and having a real-life experience of the same thing?
  • What’s the difference between imagining and:
    • …daydreaming?
    • …wondering?
    • …pretending (or playing make-believe)?
    • …believing?

Images by Beatriz Martin Vidal, from the Spanish language edition.

Activity – Imagine

Imagine something – anything! – and write down a brief description of it.
Take only a brief period of time. Expect no further instructions.

Activity – Invent a Creature

Invent a creature of your own choosing. Describe your creature in words and pictures, after considering the following criteria (which might influence how your creature looks and behaves):

  • Imagine how your creature will move. Will it fly, swim, run, walk, or use some other form of locomotion? This will affect your creature’s appearance.
  • Imagine its diet. Is it a herbivore, carnivore, insectivore or omnivore? Try to be even more specific about what it eats, as this might affect its appearance.
  • Select a habitat. Does your creature live at the beach, in a rainforest, in a desert, on an island, in the arctic, or in the bush? If you like, you can invent a new environment, including flora and fauna.
  • Name your creature.
  • Design a nemesis. For example, think of another creature, a plant, a disease or a season which would make it difficult for your creature to survive and thrive.

Discussion following the activities ‘Imagine’ and ‘Invent a Creature’

  • Was it easier to imagine something when there are no constraints at all? Or was it easier to imagine something when criteria were provided, which limited what you could imagine?
  • Is everything you imagine possible – or can you imagine something that could not possibly exist (or happen)?
  • Is it possible to have a completely new and original idea?

Epistemology of the imagination

  • Can you imagine being a bird?
  • Can you imagine being in two different places at once?
  • What makes something hard to imagine?
  • Why do we use our imagination?

Images by Beatriz Martin Vidal, from the Spanish language edition.

Ethics of secrecy

  • Do you know any secrets? (You don’t have to tell us what they are!)
  • Can you think of any situations when it would be OK to pass on a secret?
  • Can you think of any situations when you ought to pass on a secret?
  • How would you decide whether to share a secret with somebody?
  • If somebody shares their secret with you, do you need to share your secret with them?
  • Is secrecy a good thing?
  • Is secrecy similar to privacy?
  • Is secrecy similar to shame or embarrassment?

Image by Beatriz Martin Vidal


  • How do you find out who you are, and what you can become?
  • Is finding out who you are more like a process of discovery or invention?
  • Is finding out what you can become more like a process of discovery or invention?

Philosophical Allsorts

“He who has imagination without learning has wings but no feet.” Joseph Joubert (1754 – 1824)

“You can’t depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus.” Mark Twain (1835 – 1910)

“Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited, whereas imagination embraces the entire world.” Albert Einstein (1879 – 1955)

“The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science.” Albert Einstein (1879 – 1955)

“A rock pile ceases to be a rock pile the moment a single man contemplates it, bearing within him the image of a cathedral.” Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (1900 – 1944)

“Discovery consists of seeing what everybody has seen and thinking what nobody has thought.” Albert Szent-Györgyi (1893  – 1986)

“I doubt that the imagination can be suppressed.  If you truly eradicated it in a child, he would grow up to be an eggplant.” Ursula K. Le Guin (1929 – )

The Philosophy Club runs co-curricular and extra-curricular workshops for children in Australia.




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