Imagination emerges from our “biological ground” & interactions

Imagination, thought and will make deeds, and by our deeds we make ourselves. All that we are is the result of our thoughts; it is founded on our thoughts, made up of our thoughts.” — Bertrand Russell, The Analysis of Mind, 1921

I recently wrote “If, as Bertrand Russell said, ‘All that we are is the result of our thoughts’’, improvements to the Internet may offer the increased interactions to enable philosophers and scientists to finally understand where human imagination comes from.” Those Internet enabled interactions may help explain what makes humans able to create art, invent tools, think scientifically and perform other incredibly diverse behaviors? The answer to questions about imagination may have come with the work of Dartmouth researchers who, in a new study, related to widespread neural network,—defined what they call  “the brain’s ‘mental workspace

Irises

Researchers now believe it’s the brain’s “mental workspace” that manipulates images, symbols, ideas and theories and gives human beings the laser-like mental focus needed to solve complex problems and come up with new ideas. The Dartmouth team’s report, titled “Network structure and dynamics of the mental workspace,” appeared the week of Sept.16 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Their work may help us understand how interactions among human beings, like Van Gogh’s “strained and searching months” in the muck and disease and starvation in La Borinage in Belgium enabled him to find  himself and his ability to create something as beautiful as his “Iris”, pictured above. Michelangelo’s interactions in Renaissance Europe may also help to explain his ability to paint the even more extraordinary Sistine Chapel , which he painted over four years between 1508 and 1512.

Cistine Chapel

In William Blake’s “The Divine Image” he personifies the figures of Mercy, Pity, Peace, and Love and calls them the “virtues of delight.” He helps us understand that all people pray to these in times of distress and thank them for blessings because they represent “God, our father dear.”

Blake writes that the “virtues of delight are also, the characteristics of Man:
Mercy is found in the human heart,
Pity in the human face;  Peace is a garment that envelops humans, and
Love exists in the human “form” or body.
According to Blake all prayers to Mercy, Pity, Peace, and Love are directed not just to God but to “the human form divine,” which he believes all people must love and respect regardless of their religion or culture.
According to Blake, at least, it’s right and good for us to admire works of art because they are “virtues of delight ”representing “God, our father dear as well as “the human form divine,”
Mathematician and poet, Jacob Bronowski, has written extensively how the source of all human creativity both in science and art emerges from human imagination. According to Dr. Bronowski “the most interesting thing about man is that he is an animal who practices art and science and, in every known society, practices both together.
In his essay “The Reach of Imagination” Bronowski, describes how “To imagine is the characteristic act, not of the poet’s mind, or the painter’s mind, or the scientist’s, but of the mind of man.

Dr. Bronowski ,who was a William Blake scholar, loved to quote Blake, and would frequently remind us “What is now proved was once only imagined.” allowing us to understand how critical human imagination is to all that we know. He once wrote; “The power that man has over nature and himself, and that a dog lacks, lies in his command of imaginary experience. The symbol is the tool which gives man his power, and it is the same tool whether the symbols are images of words, mathematical signs or mesons.
Before van Gogh could paint his “Iris” and Michelangelo could paint his Sistine Chapel each appeared as symbols in the mind of the artist. “The symbol is the tool which gives man his power, and it is the same tool whether the symbols are images of words, mathematical signs or mesons.” – J. Bronowski, The Reach of Imagination

Perhaps one of the greatest imaginations of all is that of the famous mythologist and writer, Joseph Campbell. Following is a diagram he drew and called “A pedagogical stunt”.

pedagogical stunt

Dr. Campbell said he took the idea of a circle from Plato’s comment that “the soul is a circle”. He drew a horizontal line across the circle to represent the line of separation of the conscious and the unconscious. The dot in the center of the circle, represents the center from which all our energy comes. The ego is represented as a square, which is that aspect of our consciousness that we identify as our center and we think is what’s running the show, but it isn’t. What’s running the show is what’s coming up from way down below.

The period. Dr. Campbell believed, “When one begins to realize that one isn’t running the show is adolescence, when a whole new system of requirements begins announcing itself from the body. The adolescent hasn’t the slightest idea how to handle all this, and cannot but wonder what it is that’s pushing him—or even more mysteriously, pushing her.”

According to Dr. Campbell, “There is a whole system of “built-in action” which, when we see it in animals, we call instinct. That is “the biological ground.” Campbell believed that “imagination and it’s symbols come out of the biological ground

Dr. Campbell, himself,  imagined that “the grand and cacophonous chorus of story telling by all human beings began when our primal ancestors told stories to themselves about the animals that they killed for food and about the supernatural world to which the animals seemed to go when they died.”

Out there somewhere,” beyond the visible plain of existence, was the “animal master,” who held over human beings the power of life and death: if he failed to send the beasts back to be sacrificed again, the hunters and their kin would starve. Thus early societies learned that “the essence of life is that it lives by killing and eating; that’s the great mystery that the myths have to deal with.” The telling of Myths by humans may also explain why “All that we are is the result of our thoughts” which arise from our “biological ground“.

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Notes:

  1. Bronowski, Jacob. “The Origins of Knowledge and Imagination” (p. 9). Yale University Press. Kindle Edition.
  2. Campbell, Joseph. “The Power of Myth” Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group.
  3. mesons are subatomic particles composed of one quark and one antiquark. Masons make up the protons and neutrons of the nucleus of an atom, they are bound together by the strong interaction between the quarks
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