Monday, January 05, 2015

lack of imagination

An awful yet predictable characteristic of a stereotype is that it exemplifies "common sense" to those invoking it...but it can actually be ludicrous to those it targets. One example is the curious stereotype that dissenters of faith-beliefs supposedly lack imagination. As a follower of faith-beliefs might say it, "I believe that realities have literally miraculous origins. Anyone without faith-beliefs like mine must have a dreary life. They're earthbound. They're stuck with long lists of facts about what they can only sense directly. They can't hope for unending comfort after the challenges of living. They can't rely on benevolent, unnaturally potent beings such as angels to help them. They can only absorb a multitude of disconnected events, often accidental; they can't discern a gigantic, purpose-driven story in which to situate the events. They just see objects in space, things in motion, governed by unintelligent, uncaring processes. If they would attempt to see beyond mundane minutiae, then they would appreciate the fulfillment of envisioning my incredible faith-beliefs."

Regardless of how insightful the stereotype appears to them, it has four glaring shortcomings on closer examination. First, it fails to agree with another favorite stereotype of theirs: bohemian artists, i.e. free-spirited, rebellious iconoclasts. (Some have an irritating habit of grouping themselves into an elite, extra-special subset of humanity called "creatives".) They produce works that aren't always "respectful". They might dare to ignore the supernatural plane, ridicule it, or intentionally portray it "incorrectly". They may be atheists by their own unashamed admission, or at least they express religious ideas that are exotic or wishy-washy. In any case, unlike the stereotype, they plainly combine their rejection of proper faith-beliefs with an abundance of wild imagination. It fuels their fiction.

Second, the stereotype fails for many experts in sciences and mathematics. Throughout history, advances in such fields have depended on imagining stuff that couldn't be observed via ordinary perception. Excellent theories proposed formidably abstract yet testable and precise concepts. Through the logic of mathematics, those led to corresponding calculations for estimating future effects or for tracing past causes. Contemporary sciences and mathematics include entire ethereal domains. As with energy (or quantum mechanics, aagh), some are so intangible that opportunists try to deceptively link them to unrelated, informal, hypothetical notions. The point is that leaps of imagination were part of uncovering these far from obvious concepts, and imagination is part of understanding or expanding them too. Not all who have these skills are also consistent dissenters of faith-beliefs. Nevertheless, more than enough fit the description for the sake of tarnishing the stereotype.

Third, the stereotype fails to acknowledge that imaginative faith-beliefs have been...commonplace. In proportional terms, faith-beliefs that align with natural human inclination are unimaginative. Diverse societies have had them for ages. The more innovative path is the readiness to consider realities that diverge from this ancient template. It might require imagination to ponder an unseen god authoring everything. But it requires novel imagination to not presuppose a human-like author with a human-like soul. It might require imagination to insist on a grand plan uniting every single moment of chaos—not to mention a high tolerance for frequent bewilderment. But it requires novel imagination to not presuppose large-scale satisfaction of a human craving for orderly structure. It might require imagination to defend the doctrine that humans are exceptionally important and empowered (ensouled?). But it requires novel imagination to not presuppose that human supremacy and intelligence are self-aggrandizing signs of nobility wisely delegated from a higher authority. In short, conventional faith-beliefs reflect and impose human concerns. Imagination is picturing possible truths which aren't so derivative of those restrictive expectations.

Fourth, the stereotype fails to employ an appealing strategy to reach outsiders, in my opinion. It might inspire committed followers, but it doesn't present a tempting incentive to start following faith-beliefs. I could be mistaken, but I doubt that most potential initiates are primarily impressed by the existence and benefits of invisible ideas. Their default area of interest is their own lives: their difficulties, their communities, their ethics, their needs, their aims, their "significant" personal events. To place too much emphasis upfront on the details of another realm is to answer questions they aren't asking. To cast the spotlight on stupendous images of otherworldly perfection is to show a passive, remote, hollow creed. Substantial faith-beliefs should have ramifications on stuff that has substance. Granted, nobody can deny the obvious psychological value of an additional source of extra motivation to confront problems and to invigorate self-renewal. Yet that rationale isn't compelling either when numerous alternatives could similarly provide productive motivation without similar demands for unearned confidence in ineffectual statements about powerless myths.

In the end, even if the stereotype were accurate, a lack of imagination might not be worse than the opposite risk of excessive imagination backfiring. For the more that a creation is fed, the greater the chance that it could start to seem independently real and then proceed to domineer the thinkers who animate it!

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