Imagination and the Ways of the World


“The meaning of life is not a problem to be solved, but a reality to be experienced.”

[Johannes Jacobus van der Leeuw]

     We get so wrapped up in the idea of maximizing future experiences that we miss the joy of what happens in the present moment. The effort of constantly projecting ourselves into an imagined future takes energy away from looking at what's right in front of us.

    But we shouldn't confuse planning with imagining. Imagination plays an important role in our lives. Without imagination we have no discovery, and no invention. When we study the lives of great inventors and scientists, we learn they used thought experiments and visualizations to create a strong picture of what they intended to build.

    Imagination plays a role in our new culture of learning, where understanding our worldview allows us to understand our world. Or said another way, when we understand how the world works, we begin to see how we work, too. As Einstein said, “Imagination is more important than knowledge.”

   We all have the ability to both be in the moment, and use the power of imagination to learn about our reality, as we go about explaining to ourselves what we're thinking. In The Evolution of Imagination, Stephen Asma says imagination is the “ancient operating system at the root of cognition and culture,” and compares it to improvisation. He says:

Improvising in a jazz band, or medical triage unit, or a soccer team requires shared intentionality of a high order. We are a call-and-response, turn-taking species. The tenor horn blows a blues riff, and the piano responds by mimicking the phrase; the dancer leans in with his hip and his partner curls slightly in response. Just like a jazz musician, the early improviser had to be very sensitive to the volitions of others around him.

     Our creative roots are the bridge to creating possibility. The bridge is the place of residence for human creativity. Which is why we want to be in the business of building bridges, rather than erecting walls.

    Imagination awakens perception and action and serves as the holding space for valuable behaviors, tools, and narratives. It helps us navigate an ever-changing environment, alone and with others.


[image via Richard Johnson