Following Susan’s link, I’ve been reading Marc Briod’s Life Imagining Life. She was right, this is right up my alley.
The realm of what he calls, after Kant, Deep Imagining, has tendrils that reach out towards all the threads I’ve been gathering over the last few years. The phenomenological project and some of its descendants, as synthesized in David Abrams’ Spell of the Sensuous, I’ve talked about before, and as he connects this thread with preliterate cultures and their views on an embodiment within our physical reality. Both Abrams and Briod discuss the Gaea Hypothesis and the way it folds in what Briod calls Spinoza’s Monistic Vision of an all-physical realm, not divided between spirit and matter, with the work of Lynn Margulis and Dorion Sagan’s who’ve shown that organisms interact with geology. He extends this with a taste of Scott Turner’s work on Extended Phenotypes in which living things are seen to have modified the Earth’s physical structures and that these are actually external characteristics of those life forms. Overall he posits that this series of developments show the working of a Deep Imagining taking place within an evolving scientific view.
Briod’s assertion that we have two overall world views available to us, one religious/spiritual and the other physical/scientific seems true enough. It does state simply the facts of an apparent dichotomy dividing many people into two broad camps. I agree that the resistance to a Monistic View tends to come from those loudly proclaiming themselves religious, but I tend to see that as the flip-side of a dichotomy between those who insist on a Reductive world view who look to be supplied with a singular answer – in this case “God Did It!” – to everything; and those who are willing to see a more dynamic, fluid and ultimately more mysterious – in the true sense of that word – reality.
On the religious side, I’ve been deeply affected by my reading of Karen Armstrong’s Case for God. Her division of the religious into those who insist on “Proof,” whether believing in a literal scripture or resisting God’s “existence” based on literal refutations of the prior group’s Proofs; and an Apophatic religious sense grounded in our profound Unknowing. This seems to be a more useful and fundamental division.
Unraveling dichotomies is quite a sport! Each side of a dichotomy calls its opposite into existence and does everything it can to prop-up and keep that opposite going so it has a focus on which to, well, focus. The way the ‘West” and the Soviet Union staggered along like two out-of-shape prize-fighters propping each other up to maintain their own conviction that Mutually Assured Destruction was, what we’d now call, “A Plan!” Or the way the current crop of Lizard Brains are locked into puffing up an Existential Threat out of a rag-tag band of criminals – If you doubt the power of imagination, read Conrad’s The Secret Agent, or Dostoevsky. They predicted the suicide bomber a hundred years before their debut.
In a lopsided time such as this one, all of the visible dichotomies seem to come out of one narrow world view propagating into a Baroque entanglement of seeming diversity when in the end they are mere doodles on a similar pattern. To find where they are similar and then unearth a deeper division, so as to be able to call into being a true alternative, is in the end what I see as The Project of our moment. This is definitely a call for Deep Imagining.
If the deeper division is between the Reductivist wings of both religious and scientific world-views, versus an Apophatic world view, one that takes the dormant aspects of both religious and scientific impulses and forges a new synthesis, then we can arrive at a new world view that will provide touchstones to guide us through the hard times ahead. Briod mentions that “Reason,” what I termed “common-sense” in my last post, falls apart when faced with traumatic conditions and that at that point imagination, so derided by the “pragmatic,” gives us the only way forward. This is exactly what I’ve been trying to say. The way fear closes down our apparent options precisely at the point when we need to be most open.
Two other threads.
First meditation, whether Buddhist or Hindu – see this wonderful post by Leashless – is looking more and more like THE physical practice that is most directly aimed at approaching and ultimately achieving the kind of openeness to experience all these intellectual threads call for. As with anything else of value these days, the greatest effort needs to be expended to dig the truth out from under the accumulated Bullshit – a technical term of art – that contemporary culture has concreted around it. Scraping off pebbles, sand and barnacles takes effort, the rough and rusty mass visible from the outside barely reflecting the fine form hidden beneath it. It takes a certain courage to approach and plain hard work to recover its original state. That is certainly true of meditation today.
I’ve found a wonderful “manual” A Practical Guide to Buddhist Meditation, originally titled, Change Your Mind. Its author, Paramanada née, John Wilson, has put together this short book combining a “How-to” with just the right touches of context and philosophy. It’s arrival in my sight is just the latest in a long series of happy fortuities that seem to verify the connection between awareness and reality all these occaisions seem to point to.
In reading Briod’s piece, I was continually provoked by my memories of reading Rupert Sheldrake’s The Presence of the Past: Morphic Resonance & the Habits of Nature. I hadn’t come across him or his work before he was pointed out by a colleague. His thesis, which I find tremendously compelling, is that just as we live within a Field of electro-magnetic energy, and space-time warped by gravity, we also inhabit a Field of Forms with a similar reality. To compress and compound his thoughts with my own, there is a Field made up of all the Forms ever utilized in the Universe. The properties of a field act upon Forms through their rates of recurrence and their proximities in time and space.
Take for example the shape of a “clam shell.” I have a chunk of Oligocenian petrified mud on my desk with many dozens of Brachiopods. They look like clams, but belong to a nearly extinct group that was then the most common bivalve. They also look like bats. They look like the B-2 Bomber. They look like angel wings. This is an example of a Form, an entire family of Forms that have been “re-purposed” throughout time across all manner of contexts while remaining identifiable. This happens repeatedly, across all manner of Forms, at all scales of time and space, both in the natural world and within human constructs. This is not a re-hash of Plato’s Cave, but takes the theory of Form out of that dualistic framework and puts it squarely in monistic terms.
Here’s where I connect this with Briod’s Deep Imagining. There are two ways for Forms to be generated as opposed to being simply re-used. One is through their long evolution throughout the life of the Universe, and the other is within human consciousness. In most cases, both of these form-generators work by adaptation and the slow morphing of one form into another, but at times – in both cases – new forms can spring into being. They are fragile at first and become more robust through the mechanisms of the field. As they are iterated and reiterated they strengthen and find easier expression. Sheldrake shows incredible examples of this mechanism in physics, best left to his descriptions. This, I think, is the work of Deep Imagining. This is also the work of those of us today who are striving to imagine new Forms into being. Forms that can grow and gain strength to supplant the destructive Forms so prevalent today.
Here is where I disagree with those still caught up in the optimism/pessimism see-saw. The coming age will assuredly be Tragic, and it will include untold hardship and danger; but it does not have to be seen as a “Fall.” It does not have to be seen as a descent into poverty. As Illich said, “Poverty was invented.” If we can use this opportunity to generate new Forms, actually create a New Age out of the ruins of this one – again, the B.S. attached to this terminology threatens to derail us completely if we do not insist on chipping away the coruscation on our language to find real meanings in what we say. Unless we imagine something else out of the threads that present themselves to us precisely at this moment, we will be condemned to a true poverty, a poverty of imagination, a lack of Deep Imagining.
6 thoughts on “Deep Imagining”
Karen Armstrong is great, I have read a couple of her books, though not this one. I believe people , or their reptilian brains, have a drive toward having enemies. Enemies locate an individual or country, on a little piece of what feels like the solid ground of virtue. I don’t know – you seem to see some sort of definitive cataclysm which will be a sort of learning experience. Will this happen? A scenario for the U.S. is gradual subsidence into being a second-rate nation, illusions are tough and may survive under adverse conditions pretty successfully. You might be interested, looking at your comments about recurring forms, in some of the posts on L’astronave recently.
John Berger said, “The nature of reality is such that it is essential to exaggerate.” I’m not predicting, or wishing for any particular cataclysm. I don’t expect a washing-clean moment of Apocalyptic Change. Ages change subtly, even when they do it rather dramatically, at least for the ones who survive the tough times. My call is for Deep Imagining as a way to integrate our lives –no matter whether things creak along in a slow settling or blow up in a great bang. Gradually new forms, including new world views will come into being. I’d like to be in on that. It’s the particular way in which I chose to respond to the Chinese curse, “May you live in interesting times!”
Thanks, that makes it clearer.