December 07, 2005

Ooh, look ... Goober fish!

Yes, I will use just about anything as a jumping-off point, including Jar Jar Binks of The Phantom Menace.

I have suggested before, in very general terms, that we as a species might increasingly be losing our capacity to imagine.

It could well be argued that imagination is not a generally evolutionarily positive adaptation for a solitary or non-communal species. Active skills can easily be hampered by imagination: the climber who imagines falling too strongly may well be frozen in their ability to do anything at all. Imagination only finds a secure place here in cooperative abilities: those with imagination (as well as the ability to translate imaginings into actuality) can direct others to tasks where imagination would only hamper the accomplishment of those tasks. The general with imagination has an edge on the one without -- but only if the soldiers under that general obey without questioning, something that requires "turning off" imagination.

However, in the act of creating the previously-imagined images for its viewers, increasingly sensory-fulfilling mass media may also be "turning off" imagination altogether, not only in those who follow, but in entire generations -- including the leaders of those generations. Where distraction is everywhere and entertainment comes without effort: why expend any? And where that distraction and entertainment comes in conveniently chopped-up sound-bytes and is considered inadequate unless it walks you through every step: why work to attain a longer attention span? Indeed, the effect may be ironically amplified: in that it is precisely those leaders who are most likely to have the greatest amount of exposure to media which, through consistent, cumulative exposure to increasingly sensory-rich ready-made created environments, may discourage the art of imagination.

Thus, evolutionarily speaking, everything currently seems to be coming together to discourage imagination: even to the quiet financial discouragement of serious art pursuit (at least, if you believe in eating regularly). Perhaps this indicates that we, as a species, have outgrown the need for imagination (which is, after all, a socially-oriented trait in its species-application).

Yet I can't help thinking that just maybe, it is imagination and imagination alone which allows -- is essential for! -- a sentient species to adapt, and thus to survive.

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