How many times have you or a friend claimed to have limited or no imagination? For everyone that thinks that is the case, I offer that you are sorely mistaken. Our lives are awash in imaginary constructs. They are not only pervasive, powerful, and immersive but also collective. Let’s consider some examples.
Does the United States, Australia, or South Africa exist in reality? Nope. Pretend for a moment that you are an alien visitor to Earth. You are approaching our pale blue dot and you see the picture below emerging.
Do you see nations? Of course not. You see continents surrounded by oceans. It is Earth as it exists in physical reality. You would not recognize any nations until you engaged with the indigenous life, in other words us. Now consider this picture.
We see all of the nations of Earth on this political map, which we have established do not actually exist. The United States, Australia, and South Africa are figments of our powerful, collective imaginations. So long as we agree, everything is fine. BUT! If one group does not agree with another group on the placement of an imaginary border, look out. Someone is going to die!
Corporations are the same way. Apple Inc. has buildings, employees, and products, but those things are not Apple. Apple is an imaginary construct made “real” by a stack of “legally binding” documents. What do they legally bind? Our imaginations. It goes much, much deeper fellow freethinkers. What do you see in the picture below?
If you said lotus or flower or any other name, you are, in the deepest sense, wrong. You have applied a series of tones (i.e., a word) to label the flower. There are 6,500 languages in the world.1 The potential exists that there are equally as many different tonal sequences used to represent the flower and the overwhelming majority would mean nothing to you.
The difference between this example and the previous two is the purpose of our imaginary construct in this case. The first two are solely imaginary. The flower is real, but it is what it is. I ask that you think about that last sentence deeply because it is critical to the way ahead. We must accept the universe for what it is and experience it as such, which means we must be able to distinguish between what materially exists and what exists in our heads. Our labels have no meaning outside our collective, imaginative agreement that a certain series of tones or scribbles on a page refer to it.
John Locke (1632–1704) put forth a political philosophy that claimed nature endows human beings with inalienable right such as life, liberty, and property. Because they are natural rights, they cannot be revoked or diminished by government authorities. I am sure you can guess where this is headed. There is nothing in nature that supports this proposition, yet it was powerful enough to fuel rebellion on the outskirts of the British Empire in 1776.
The power of our imaginary constructs above do not hold a candle to the power of religions over us. Countless lives have been positively and negatively affected by our religious imaginings. How is it that Bronze Age thinking can have us believing fantastic things that have absolutely no basis in objective reality? Tell the story long enough, loud enough, and, perhaps, violently enough and people will come to believe it. I mean really believe it. They will feel the personal presence of God magically healing them or willingly blow themselves up all the while believing heavenly rewards await them.
When all of this sunk in, I was simultaneously amazed at the power of our minds and deeply shaken. Nearly everything we believe is a figment of our immensely powerful imaginations. It is one thing to hold personal beliefs, but we are capable of global destruction when we believe something collectively.
Reasoned Insight #5: We live in a world dominated by two realities: physical and imagined.
What are we supposed to do now? This is where it all gets really, really interesting. I will put it all together for you in the final article of this series, entitled The Way Ahead. I really appreciate all of you who have stuck with me thus far.
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