An interesting experiment with chimpanzees has been described by Chiara Cristilli, lecturer in linguistics at the University of Naples Orientale*. In this experiment the chimpanzee is placed in front of two sticks which can be joined together to make a longer stick which, when so joined, is long enough to enable it to reach a bunch of bananas. If the sticks are so arranged that the ends that can be attached to one another are close to one another, the ape is able to join the sticks and reach the bananas. On the other hand, if the sticks are not arranged in this manner or if the two pieces are so placed that they are not both, simultaneously, in the chimpanzee’s visual field, then it is not able to carry out the simple operation (from a human point of view) of assembling the sticks into one long one, and so obtain the bananas. This episode illustrates a basic process of human thought: at the basis of creative ability and hence at the basis of human intelligence is imagination that is, the capacity to imagine something that is not currently present.
Imagination is the fuel for the capacities of abstraction. These necessary capacities allow us to project and to design possible futures, to imagine how events might unfold for us immediately, soon or in some future more remote.
Further, these capacities play an essential role in the development of strategies, those coordinated ensembles of actions employed in dealing with specific adverse situations and for pursuing long term objectives.
Exposure to art nourishes the imagination and contributes to our capacity for abstraction
*very famous experiment done by Wolfgang Kohler, reported in his Mentality of Apes orginally published in German in 1917 and in English in 1925