Just a few ruminations on imagination this week. It has come up a couple of times recently and I haven’t really made up my mind on it.
A friend of mine has sent me a piece called ‘Imagination is not creativity’, which I quite enjoyed, from a Substack account called “Applied Complexity Science” (not sure who is behind it, actually). The author contends that “not only is imagination not sufficient for creativity, it can indeed hamper it.” This is the main argument:
Imagination operates over a limited internal bandwidth — reality does not. When viewed properly, this is an optimistic statement:humans can generate things that arebeyondthe scope of imagination. We can do more than we can imagine, literally.
This is because creativity is not like imagination, something held inside of the individual, but a kind of process and practice. Imagination can be leveraged in that process, but it can’t drive it. Individuals and groups can engage in creative practice, but they can’t be “internally creative”, it would be incoherent to say so.
[Christoper] Alexander referred to this process as an unfolding. In a proper unfolding, we don’t know exactly how everything will evolve. The thing reveals itself through a series of iterative steps in which wholeness is continuously enhanced, and tensions are progressively resolved.
If as a thing unfolds we hold fast to what weimagined, we will stifle it. We will prevent the flower from bloom. Our tools must serve us, we should not serve out tools.
Nora Bateson also wrote about imagination recently. Indeed, she wrote a ‘letter to her imagination.’ In the piece, she essentially makes the point that our imagination is always and necessarily bound by what we know and have experienced before:
The weave and waft of this imagined world has grown into a tent with no door. All around me the hearts of others are longing for another imagined world, summoning the imagination that is so actively illustrating the current one, to redraw, re-sense, re-vision. The vision is an imagination that is convincing itself that it can change itself. The patterns are repeating in the name of change.
It is not that I am nostalgic, no. It is that the air in this imagined world smells like numbness, and certainty, and I am writing you today to request a ripple - The tightness of the stitchery has made it so difficult to place life that makes life before life that makes the current collections of illusions continue. It is time to be roused from this dream into another.
There is much imagining of imagining of the future going on. As though the imagination of the future would not be presoaked in the past, a linear casting of vision– seasoned in now… with such precision that it calls itself change. A great forgetting has occurred. I promise never to re-imagine the future. I leave that to the underground, unseen, un-named realms. Better not to narrow the path. Do you see how convincing this version has become?
So, imagination might actually narrow down what we can do and, indeed, we can imagine is only what effectively leads to the continuation of what is. “The tightness of the stitchery has made it so difficult to place life that makes life before life that makes the current collections of illusions continue.“
In contrast to this rather critical stances vis-a-vis imagination, I also enjoy Phoebe Tickell’s work on Moral Imaginations. With her work, she not only attempts to connect imagination with “with our deepest moral sense of what is important”, but she also aims to shift the basis for imagination in a way that allows us to imagine things that are not bound by what is and what has been. So in that sense, to move beyond the type of imagination Nora describes as limiting. Moral imaginations is about shifting perceptions and about “unflattening to re-embody a full sense of being.”
Phoebe describes Moral Imagination as follows:
Moral Imaginations is a portal. It is an emergent space, a space where the end goal is possibility. We entertain that if our current perception and ways of thinking about the world are fundamentally dead-end, and create realities we do not want, we need to find ways to throw off the psychic machinery that keeps us in a dead reality. The portal is into new vistas within ourselves, and into a community that supports further development.
So, I’m curious to hear what your take on imagination is, so I can make up my mind. 😉
Nina Simone: I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free
I wish I knew how
It would feel to be free
I wish I could break
All the chains holding me
I wish I could say
All the things that I should say
Say ‘em loud say ‘em clear
For the whole round world to hear
I wish I could share
All the love that’s in my heart
Remove all the bars
That keep us apart
I wish you could know
What it means to be me
Then you’d see and agree
That every man should be free
I wish I could give
All I’m longin’ to give
I wish I could live
Like I’m longin’ to live
I wish I could do
All the things that I can do
Though I’m way overdue
I’d be starting anew.
Well I wish I could be like a bird in the sky
How sweet it would be
If I found I could fly
I’d soar to the sun
And look down at the sea
And I sing ‘cause I know
How it feels to be free
Why have I added this to my paper museum? Just because I really like the song and the lyrics.