“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.