Imagination vs. Impression
Imagination in modern culture is often seen as a wonderful virtue and bringer of limitless possibility. We see this in phrases like 'only your imagination limits what you can do with' [pick a gadget of your choice].
In 4th Way discourse, the word imagination is seen somewhat differently. Imagination is one of the principal features of man which keep him asleep. Specially negative imagination and identification with it is a detrimental mechanical habit. Negative imagination consists of reviewing by means of automatic habitual association all manner of possible or impossible calamities which might befall one. Knowing about the world's dangers is even necessary but habitually dwelling on them in lurid reveries of horrors is counter-productive. The key distinction here is between mental activity which leads to action and mental activity which alone seeks to generate more similar mental activity.
Positive reveries are not much better, they also represent subjectivity and tend to separate one from reality, i.e. from being awake.
We can of course ask 'what about creativity? Is this not predicated on imagination?'
This is a complex question. Most artistic expression, says Gurdjieff, is 'subjective art.' The artist expresses his inner subjective world and the art in question evokes essentially random responses in others, since the inner worlds of people are generally dissimilar and precise understanding between people is at best a game of chance. Such furthers sleep and further subjectivity.
There is a possibility of objective art but this is rare. Furthermore, the sleeping person may not have a way of distinguishing it from subjective art. Generally, objective art is based on knowledge of the workings of human emotions and cognition and is intended for carrying a conscious message, for producing certain definite impressions. Of course, receiving these impressions requires a certain preparation on behalf of the receiver. But if this readiness exists, objective art will be understood by the beholders in a compatible manner, according to the capacity of each.
We could say that subjective art is expression of self purely based on inner considering. Objective art has an element of external considering and deliberateness.
In the 4th Way sense we could say that imagination is simple mechanical recombination of existing contents. Creativity on the other hand is more akin to tapping into objective contents and giving them a conscious expression in whatever form. One may choose to express beauty of nature, study this, experience this, consider how to render it so that the experience can be reconstructed and then realize this as a work of art. This is much more conscious than mechanical associations which are referred to as imagination and overvalued in today's culture.
Impressions on the other hand are called the 'third being food' and are an absolute necessity for life. One can be without breathing for 2 minutes but one cannot be without impressions for any length of time. Of course the very fact of having a body provides a minimum feed of impressions.
The quality of impressions assimilated by one may vary greatly. What the organism produces with its psychophysical metabolism varies in function of the raw materials. The organism is so constructed that man cannot eat other things than what he does, nor can he breathe anything but air. The intake of impressions is not however as restricted.
For producing so-called 'higher hydrogens' the quality of the impressions, themselves also a hydrogen, is important. Self-remembering while assimilating impressions helps the air octave to develop past the first shock, thus potentially producing higher hydrogens. The impressions themselves evolve in the system according to their own octave. Depending on their quality and intensity, the effects for transmuting them to higher hydrogens may vary dramatically. The higher hydrogens, on the other hand are the energy necessary for the correct functioning of the centers, specially for access to the higher centers.
The experience of objective art can be seen as food for the higher functions. The experience of mechanical imagination, when one imagines only dissipates energy. Nourishing oneself on subjective imaginings of others generally has the effect of reinforcing the corresponding functions of imagination within the self. Man can write libraries of books while entirely asleep and these same books will only cause others to sleep all the deeper. Objective art cannot be created while asleep, it needs to be a product of conscious work intended for a purpose.
The metabolism of hydrogens is explained in detail in In Search of the Miraculous.