Can Imagination, Alone, Lead Us to Beauty?


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Beauty, like art, has many levels from low to high. “A thing of beauty is a joy forever,” says Keats in Endymion; “Surely the strange beauty of the world must somewhere rest on pure joy!” exclaims poet Louise Bogan; but beauty now ascends to Sara Teasdale’s lament: “Oh, beauty are you not enough?”; and now beauty steeply climbs through Camus’: “We must simultaneously serve suffering and beauty”; finally, nearing the peak, resides Rilke’s truth: “Beauty’s the start of terror we can hardly bear.”

If beauty is meaningful in and of itself, then art is the eternal, often tragic, struggle to create the beautiful. The despairing, defiant cry of the human heart towards virtue is, ultimately, a thing of beauty.

Imagination, then, is required to find the uniquely beautiful meaning for our life, but it is not enough. Does not the art of such imaginative striving also have to pass through a tunnel lined, to some extent at least, with suffering and images of despair?  If so, then imagination travels with Camus’ defiant hope on the deep foundation of pure joy.Image

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Can Imagination Alone Provide a Compelling Reason to Live?




Is imagination capable of providing a meaningful ritual and narrative for each and every human life?—or, on the other hand, does every serious, thinking individual eventually evaluate imagination as fantasy and superstition? The former is imagination as myth and ritual fundamental to a society; the latter is imagination as folly, often dangerous folly.

Do we not “mentally perceive” the objective events of our lives with a continuing set of evolving mental representations? The mental representations of objective phenomena, though often imprecise, are automatically classified by the mind as physical reality. This reality is found to obey physical laws, as if—in a metaphorical sense—actual physical phenomena were constrained to exist upon a “physical surface” where science and its measurements and its mathematics reign supreme, unhindered and unchallenged by metaphysics which has been consigned by science to other dimensions—dimensions  where subjective and spiritual concepts are allowed. Imagination, using this metaphor, may exist away from the “physical surface” of objective reality; that is, imagination is not constrained to the “physical surface” but free to exist and to play in other dimensions of mental activity. If freedom exists for us at all, does it not exist first and foremost in the human imagination?

Of course, our human subconscious already has filtered and conditioned the output of our senses before we are consciously aware of them. Do you believe that each of us has a double, as the ancients believed their shadow to be?—Another self, on the other side of the mirror of the mind with which we contemplate ourselves. Somehow, deep within us, complex sets of excited neurons and brain chemistry orders our initial perceptions before they are presented to the conscious self. These become mental representations that impact us at the threshold of our conscious mind with intuitive conceptions of space and time. Then, out of a driving and instinctual curiosity, our conscious intellect operates on these mental representations, continuously seeking causes and effects, subjects and objects.  Our conscious intellect then relates these mental representations to stored memory in a continuously updated fashion that we conventionally label “thinking.” Again we may ask: What has imagination, if anything, to do with this?—That is, if imagination is associated with the uniquely human faculty of being able to free our mental selves from the  metaphorical surface of objective reality, of what use is it in a real life that takes place only on that physical surface?

Is this not the fundamental problem of modern life?—To find meaning in a life now confined to objective reality?—To find meaning in a life haunted by guaranteed annihilation? Can Imagination Alone Provide a Compelling Reason to Live?

Nature and Imagination: Can They Ever Be the Same?


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I believe there are two primary concepts of “nature” that exist, the first being the incomplete conception of it that resides imperfectly in our limited minds, and the other—the metaphysical “nature” of ultimate and unknowable reality that philosophers once called the “thing in itself”—the “nature” that supersedes science, mathematics, reason, and experience. The essence of this omniscient “nature” has, in the past, been insufficiently defined by philosophers using words such as “being” or “will.” Therefore, I argue in “The Gospel of Dan,” first and foremost, for humility. Either of these concepts of “nature” leaves us awash in ignorance.

Science, especially physics and mathematics, continues to explore the first concept of “nature” as observable and measurable phenomena, presuming, in most if not all cases, that its theories approach, asymptotically through paradigms, the physical reality of that part of nature under investigation. Modern science ignores metaphysical “nature” as conveyed by the familiar quote of physicist Richard Feynman: “I believe that a scientist looking at nonscientific problems is just as dumb as the next guy.” When and if imagination enters this objective side of “nature,” it is subject to testing by experimental reality and, when accepted, it is often called inspiration; and when rejected, it is often called “ongoing research.” Humility, in any event, is built into the scientific process.

Metaphysical “nature,” on the other hand, if it exists, is by definition beyond the reach of science. This does not mean that speculation about metaphysics should ever contradict science, but there is an implication that the power of imagination that leads to metaphysical speculations and conclusions, especially concerning spiritual truths, is not subject to experimental test. We can expect, therefore, a huge diversity of spiritual speculations about the ultimate and unknowable reality of metaphysical “nature.” Often these spiritual speculations are based on revelations of “inspired scriptures” received by particular individuals; when these beliefs are generally accepted by a culture, major religions may appear with specific dogmas. Unfortunately, because of the diversity of beliefs beyond the reach of testing by rigorous experiment, religious conflict can be deadly and extreme, primarily because often it is held that eternal existence is at stake in the mind of believers unless their spiritual beliefs triumph. Humility, in this case, exists when one’s faith is held simultaneously with one’s doubt; and when doubt is absent it is common for a believer to fall into a dangerous fanaticism. Proper use of imagination in a spiritual sense must result in enough doubt to avoid violence or antagonism against others. Secular government of a liberal persuasion is the primary modern means to hold all of these diverse beliefs together towards a positive result that we can normally call “the common good.” Unfortunately, such government can become its own perverse end when it demands the allegiance normally given to the spiritual side of life, or when it rejects and disallows such spiritual allegiance outright in public life.

Given the above discussion, and now returning to the original topic: “Nature and Imagination: Can They Ever Be the Same?”

Is it possible that imagination could result in the testable hypothesis: “Other Interest is Self Interest?” For example, in the limit, what could be the observable yet improbable source of an empathy that results in someone sacrificing his or her life for another? Can we imagine, subject to empirical testing, that such empathy, if not the expression of insanity, results from a total identification of oneself with another, to the extent that the extension of another’s life is identical with our own continued existence? And, if so, can we imagine further that this is possibly tapping into the ultimate reality of the unknowable, indescribable, and omniscient “Nature” of metaphysics? And can this hypothesis not be empirically tested by seeing the effects of performing “Other Interest is Self Interest” in our own experience and in the experience of others? Once again, humility is called for in this approach, and one treads both cautiously and meticulously into metaphysical spirituality.

Finally, is this not the essence of virtue?—that we sacrifice ourselves with no thought of any reward, now or in any other life, other than the welfare of another? Is this not the essence of motherhood? Empathy, empirically, only makes sense, I believe, if our own self-interest is involved, and this can be the case only if we and the other are, in fact, in some existential and indescribable way, one with ultimate reality.

In this way, an empirically testable way, a way that leads to true virtue and to ultimate meaning for ourselves in the universe—at least to the limit of our understanding of it— “Nature and Imagination Are the Same!”

Nature and Imagination: Which Causes Which?


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“The limits of my language means the limits of my world.”   (Ludwig Wittgenstein)

Is it fair to say that the subconscious and the conscious existed before language? Were they there in our prehistoric heads before we spoke using symbols or before we drew pictures on the walls of a cave? Regardless, both of these faculties would have been, as they are now, limited and determined by genetics, environment, and perhaps by the complex epigenetic relationships between them. All would be dictated by evolutionary necessity, would it not? Freedom of will, certainly before language, would be an illusion.

Today, science discredits most beliefs formerly considered miraculous, and neuroscience has demonstrated that our subconscious inner-self makes decisions before our conscious mind is aware of them, ironically relegating our consciousness to the status of an observer (of our deeper self which is determined by “nature plus nurture”).  However, despite these so-called advances of science, if there were only one “miracle” left for us to believe in, it would be the wonder of symbolic language—language that not only creates and defines the “self” within a culture, but that opens up the power of imagination, the power to conceive of what has never been and that never could be. With imagination—that is, with the “freedom of imagination,” a real power emerges from our psyche, a power that once again ignites the search and the hope for freedom—freedom of will, at least, if not freedom of action.

Therefore, if freedom of will is not another illusion waiting to be debunked by science, that freedom needs to be unleashed by the power of imagination through the “miracle” of symbolic language. Without imagination—as Wittgenstein states above—language is not liberating, but rather a hard constraint on what we can know and understand. “What a queer mechanism,” Wittgenstein says, that we can imagine someone “even if he is thousands of miles away or dead.” (“The Blue Book”).

The logical power and constraints of language, when combined with the unleashing of unlimited possibility through imagination, provide our species with the ultimate survival advantage—the freedom to imagine nature itself as infinite possibility. Imagination, properly informed and disciplined, is the escape hatch from the prison ruled by language and logic and mathematics; it is the creative spark that produces those rare “eureka” flashes of insight and that allows us to become artists in creating our own narratives of existence and of generating meaning and hope for our place within existence.

Therefore, can we not accept that nature and imagination cause each other, because they both exist fundamentally as concepts within our minds, mutually created within us by evolutionary forces beyond our comprehension? Just as Yahweh is unspoken because no word or words can describe an ineffable Being, just so we need a similar word (or metaphor) for nature that shows by its utterance its inadequacy.

Can Nature and Philosophy Coexist?

Religions and philosophies through the ages did us a great evolutionary service by presenting collective narratives that, for many, provided both meaning for existence and a place for individual lives “to matter” relative to both culture and to the observed world. On the other hand, they did us a great disservice when they masked our vulnerability, when they placed us above and in control of nature, or when their dogmas were used to dominate or to define “the other” as objects of exclusion or violence. This bipolar interplay between the outcomes of “service” and “disservice” peaked with German philosophy in the mid-nineteenth century, causing philosophy to ultimately break with religion and court its new handmaiden, science. Science, however, was the Trojan Horse in this relationship, disconnecting itself from both philosophy, especially metaphysics, and from religion, especially institutional dogmas. The close relationship between science and nature is now often called “progress.”

But nature remains superior to science. Just as nature mocks religious predictions of the end of time; just as nature scoffs and quickly displaces those philosophies announcing the “zeitgeist of the age”; so nature will humiliate, or at least significantly limit, the impact and reach of the mathematical tenets and paradigms of science. For religion, defrocked as it may be, still realizes humanity’s vulnerability before nature without a narrative, without a mythology; and philosophy, ignored as it may be, still believes there are abstract phenomena and processes, perhaps unknowable except through the imagination, that drive the material world; and therefore science, glorified as it may be today, still lies relatively helpless to provide a meaningful narrative for our existence or to overcome the logical, fundamental constraints of both mathematics and of language in understanding all of nature and its driving processes.

Nature and Philosophy can coexist, therefore, but this coexistence can only be temporarily sampled by the informed and unleashed imagination, one that spiritually creates meaning, one that physically is consistent with observed life experience, and one that may be only partially explained by logic and language.

Is Nature an affront to humanity?



It seems that nature is wondrous to behold as an observer, but at times terrifying to experience as a participant. When least expected, our breath may be cut short, our perceived mooring in creation may be toppled, and our stability may be exposed as a fraud in a single brittle and fragile moment. Despite our awe of nature, it affronts us in three primary ways. Our cosmology puts us, forgets us, in an unremarkable corner of one of uncountable galaxies; our biology tells us that we exist at the end of an innumerable number of mutations through the ages, compensating for insufficient instinct and lack of physical adaptation with intelligence from a three-pound brain; and our psychology exposes our fragile ego with defense mechanisms that demonstrate that we are not masters of our own consciousness.

What Are the Preconditions for “Good News” in Our Life?

QUESTION: “Is Freedom of Will Necessary for Life to Have Meaning?”

NOTE: Freedom of will, as used here, is not freedom of action. Freedom of action implies the lack of external constraints on our thoughts and behaviors, while freedom of will implies our ability to think or to determine our attitude regardless of external constraints. Freedom of action may be determined by outside factors; freedom of will, if it exists, is an autonomous faculty within ourselves.

If there is no freedom of will and therefore no autonomous faculty within ourselves, then our deepest mental processes are fully and totally determined by genetics, the environment, and the epigenetic relationship between them. This list of primary influences on our decisions and behavior seems complete. What other human faculty or physical process is there that would result in autonomy and thus confer freedom of will? The imagined concept of a metaphysical soul seems necessary to provide this autonomy, and this is, indeed, a leap of faith!

And so, if the freedom of will is necessary for meaning in life, then metaphysics seems essential to define the soul, the spiritual faculty that confers true autonomy. Otherwise, if freedom of will is an illusion, the belief in meaning for one’s life (as well as the belief in personal freedom of any significance) is also an illusion, one that is pre-programmed, fated, and determined.

ANSWER: “Yes, otherwise one’s life only provides the illusion of meaning.” 


“The reality in…

“The reality in which we live is determined by unreality which we believe to be real because it is rational.”

Otto Rank (“Beyond Psychology”)

“In the physical sciences, advance often comes through paradigms that build upon and then replace one another. The measurable value of these paradigms lies in their predictive capacity for material processes and events. In the social sciences, however, and often also in philosophy and religion, separate paradigms often tend to debunk or negate one another rather than build upon them. So today, the once great Sigmund Freud is largely negated by contemporary psychologists, often without reading his work. Freud’s disciple Otto Rank, on the contrary, built upon what was solid in Freud and created a paradigm of human behavior that expanded Freud’s insight, negating only that within Freud’s activity which could be shown to be in error. In this, Rank’s insights relative to Freud’s work are analogous to Einstein’s insights relative to Newton’s work; that is, they build rather than negate. This, I believe, is the key to advancement in any field of endeavor.”  (dkreikneros)


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