Skip navigation

Category Archives: reason

Last month, our story finished with a demonstration of how imagination is already quite active in how we create knowledge. However, these days, its participation is overshadowed by its dominant sibling, reason. Rational examination receives the lion’s share of recognition in how we humans “know” anything. However, this was not always the case.

Human knowledge began as an oral tradition. This tradition was rich with metaphor, myth and symbol – all are used to help the listener receive a certain “knowing” about what it is to be alive and a part of this world. As I demonstrated in the last post, it is the imagination that enables us to extract knowledge from myth, metaphor and symbol. We did not lose this system of “knowing” with the written word; however, as we will see by the end of this post, with time, especially here in the West, it does eventually get squeezed out.

Imagination is effective with symbol, metaphor and myth because they all rely on the mystical as their center. There is an “unknowing” inherent with each of them. There is not a “certain” truth within any of them, but a living relationship between the words (or design) and the listener/reader. The mystical is the pure mystery –that which exceeds all our categories of thought, in other words, the purely Unknowable. Imagination, myth, metaphor and symbol all radiate from this unknowing – they are all trying to express that which cannot be said directly. Imagination is the ability to draw knowledge from a recognition of this mystical core.

Reason is often seen as the exact opposite. People generally assume that reason is not based on this purely Unknowable, but instead is situated on sure and solid ground. (The last two posts went into detail in order to show that this is not the case. Reason has no sure footing.) Here is the surprise. We did not always view reason this way. It, too, aligned with imagination, was seen to have a mystical center. Even as late as the birth of this nation, reason was seen as having a mystical core.

How did that change?

One key factor comes from the change in our concept God. “God” once upon a time signified pure mystery. Now, the dominant concept God is something that can be known, “I know God, he is that perfect human, a loving father, a man with a plan, maybe even an old guy with a long white beard. That’s what God is.”

This shift in the concept of God has altered our sense of reason. The phrase “God is the eye of reason” common in the 1700s (just look at your dollar bill and see the top eye at the top of the pyramid) delivers a very different message if “God” is a knowable concept, than it delivers if “God” is the symbol for divine mystery. God as a knowable concept covers over that mystery is at the core of reason , it covers over that the heart of reason is a leap of faith, not certainty.

So now, not only is reason seen as the opposite of imagination, but reason is misunderstood and regarded as some sort of antidote to pure mystery. We take the findings from our rational inquiries and we build “the truth” and we hold up the banner of truth (I know what is going on here!) to cover over the much more challenging and possibly more enriching aspect of being alive as humans: We don’t know what the heck is going on here! ALL ways of knowing depend upon pure mystery in order to generate any story, any “truth”. Underneath all our “truths” remains the Unknowable. The Mystery. The Mystical.

This post is an invitation to no longer misunderstand reason. Reasoning and rational inquiry and beautiful! But they do not and cannot deliver any “knowledge” without relying on the mystical. Reason, in itself, acknowledges the mystical. It is our misperception of it that has buried the mystical from our sight. It is our misperception of reason that has pitted it against imagination. It is our misperception of reason that has led to a devaluation of imagination. It is our misperception of reason that has drained our world of much of the beauty and “juice” that comes from acknowledging the pure mystery of being alive as these weird reflective creatures.

So, now you’re probably wondering, “Kjirsten, what do I do? I don’t want my life dried and devoid of the juiciness that acknowledging the mystical can bring me. A little help here?

Here you go!

  • Remind yourself that all your knowledge has no sure base. Be kind, aim to see how other people’s points of view developed. Allow yourself to feel their path.

 

  • Don’t take everything so literally. Let your imagination exercise itself. All our stories (academic, religious, pop cultural, etc.) are expressions that can be taken as metaphors, as symbols, as myths – stories that deliver “truths” about the human experience hidden in the words, not from the claims of the words themselves.

 

  • Come to Visage, 1046 NW Johnson, on Monday, August 10th. Doors open at 7:30pm. At 8pm or so, I’ll be talking about the magic of words beyond their logical, rational, and literal functions. And there will be about five or six new pieces hanging on the walls! I’d love some company!
FacebookTwitterGoogle+TumblrShare

In last month’s post, we traced the circular relationship between experience and the first principles of logic (the fundamental principles of rational thinking that define its scope and provide the foundation from which all its further truths are formed).

In short, in our tracing, we discovered that we use reason to create knowledge about and from our experiences, but experience provides the first principles of logic which govern reasoning. We can see there is a closed, self-perpetuating “loop” within this story, limited to these variables. Rather than find this revelation to be disconcerting, I find it to be a powerful discovery:

Our awareness of this circular relationship shows us that the “truth” of our intellectual and sensual perceptions is dependent on what I make of it all, dependent on what you make of it all, dependent on what each person makes of it all . . . in other words, our intellectual and empirical “truths” are dependent upon what we imagine to be happening.

It shows us that imagination is necessarily a part of human understandings, truths, beliefs, perceptions and sensations. And for me this means that my imagination is a powerful contributor to the “reality” I live and to the world I co-create. My experiences are not “purely” themselves – they belong to me, and I am a rich field. My experiences are laden with what I make of them, sometimes before they even occur. Simply put by Ruth Benedict’s quote from last month, they are mostly imagination.

Imagination functions by reading symbols. Think of a child playing dolls. It doesn’t matter if these are GI Joe dolls or Barbie dolls. The child plays “stories” with these dolls. These stories are not perfect replications of the child’s own experiences, or even of experiences that children have witnessed on TV or in film. They are fabrications based on the symbolism found within their experiences/observations of a soldier, of a mother, of a teenager, of friendship, and so on. Children draw on those symbols via their imaginations and create experiences for their dolls in a story.

A more academic example could be our past discussion of taking our particular experiences and creating universal rules of guidance. We discussed how experience is necessarily “smaller” than a universal principle or rule. Yet, we are able to generate something greater from that meager piece of information. It is imagination that steps in and fills the gap. My experience becomes a symbol, becoming “bigger” than the experience. Or in a survey study, the selected participants become a symbol for an entire group. It is our imagination that allows them to become symbols (since never could a portion of the group represent the whole group with perfect accuracy).

Imagination is already at play in how we create knowledge, we simply don’t acknowledge it. This post is an invitation to engage in an active practice of how we are imagining. The first step is to acknowledge its presence. I’ve given two examples above from our everyday lives in the context of our current culture. However, we can see that our current culture doesn’t readily acknowledge the role of imagination in “knowing”. As a result, I must ask, in what other manners does our current “cultural perception” hide the activities of symbol and imagination from our awareness?

But, this post is already quite long! Which means, yes, you know it, there will be a Part III to Knowing and Imagination! In that entry we will take a time-traveling journey to see how imagination was once a heavily recognized and valued aspect of knowledge and watch as it becomes overshadowed to the point of dismissal. . . stay tuned!