We humans are gifted with the ability to imagine.
Imagination is possible because we understand ourselves as distinct beings, different from the world, different from one another. This makes us think reflectively and in symbols (I am “self” you are an “other” – I imagine you as different from the way I imagine myself).
We reflect on objects and our own actions and the actions of others through socially constructed meaning. This is how we were able to develop sophisticated languages, signifiers, and, yes, stereotypes, as linguists, psychologists, and social scientists would tell you. And we are changing constantly what meaning we assign to symbols, things, actions, and so on, as poststructuralism has discovered many decades ago.
This process of meaning making is grounded (only in part) in the material world.
The material world inspires and sets limits to our imagination.
A tree for example can be perceived in countless different ways (symbol for nature, life, genealogy, obstacle, etc.) but is also a real thing that can limit and enable us. We can die from a falling tree, trees produce oxygen to give us life, trees can fuel our energy needs.
In other words, material things have a number of actual properties but also an unlimited number of (changing) imaginary properties (depending on our culture, language, fashion, media etc.).
Throughout the history of humankind, imagination and fantasy have enabled us to create tools, imagine Gods and religions, advance science, economics, the law, philosophy, fashion etc., and, intertwined with all of this, of course, we advanced language and how we communicate the imaginary.
Humans have always seen themselves and others through abstract meaning and not simply through physical sense perception. Nothing I am saying here is new.
What I am saying, however, is that we have advanced now to a level where most of us spend more time in the imaginary world than in the real material world.
We spend more time looking at pictures of trees than we spend time touching real trees. We can go to many more faraway places in our heads than we could travel in a lifetime.
We consume more stuff we want because we imagine we need them (e.g. short lived fashion to feed our selfie-branding, decorative seasonal items that make us feel better, entertainment that keeps us from being bored) than stuff we actually need (and then we throw out food every day).
We move money, give hugs and kisses, and order gifts with our fingerprints, never seeing the material implications of server space, electricity production, pollution, and waste accumulation.
We have opinions and stereotypes of people we have not spoken with and might never meet.
We have come to a point where the imaginary has accelerated to such an extent that the material world, the resources needed to give us life and to sustain all this chitter-chatter, cannot keep up as recent natural and humanitarian disasters have shown. Reality is crushing down on us.
Such crashes will accelerate not only in nature but also in our minds.
We are seeing and are going to see more psychological, humanitarian, and political disasters.
This is because we humans have physical and psychological needs that are very much real. We need not only shelter, cloths, water, and food, we also need love, compassion, and understanding. We need the touch of each other.
We need to be safe in order to spread our wings and fly into the imaginary.
Safety however, has become and will increasingly become a scarce commodity, both inside and outside our heads and hearts.
What do you think? Leave me a comment.
5 thoughts on “Until reality comes crushing down”
Omg Elizabeth, I never realize you had a Blog
🙏🏻 This is actually the first time I am reading through all this, your words are beautiful 😌
Thank you Vanessa for your kind words. Welcome to my blog!
You’re asking the quintessential question that thinkers throughout centuries have asked: What is the relationship between the self and the world? How does the self perceive the world, and how is it changed by various interactions with the world. I think your point about the relationship between our selves and the material world is particularly interesting. Our imagination might be inspired by, and/or limited by the material world. This is such a philosophical take on materiality of things. As a social scientist, do you think that our imagination is being constrained by the material world that we’re looking at?
Dear Nga, thank you for your comment.
I imagine that social scientists are like most people and yes, we are constrained by the material world and by the physics of being human. We feel as though meaning can take on unlimited forms but then we are only people and what do we know? Not much.
Your response is also getting at something deeper: what is meaning in a material world. Can meaning be disembodied from this world? I have been thinking about this question a bit lately. What is it about meaning that we are deeply interested in? Why do we care about how our research subjects make meaning of their experience?
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