Posted January 8, 2014
by Jerry Alatalo
“Sincerity is the way to heaven. The attainment of sincerity is the way of men. He who possesses sincerity is he who, without an effort, hit what is right, and apprehends, without the exercise of thought; he is the sage who naturally and easily embodies the right way. He who attains to sincerity is he who chooses what is good, and firmly holds it fast.”
– Confucius (551-479 B.C.)
What would be the benefit, if any, of imagining into the future when every person alive now is no longer living? People use the phrase “broaden your horizon”, meaning a variety of things depending on the perspective and experience of the person saying it. Examples abound of ways that men and women can “broaden your horizon”, including learning a new language or musical instrument, or listening to speakers whose topics and issues are unfamiliar.
Other examples include finding books written on subjects one has never studied before, or by writers who are from regions on Earth that one has no familiarity with. All of the actions one takes which broaden one’s horizon have one thing in common: they are actions which result in an awareness of something new. Making an effort to imagine what the state of the Earth will be after this generation of humans have all passed on is certainly new for most people – at least an uncommon flight of the imagination.
According to British poet, critic, philosopher Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834):
“The imagination then, I consider either as primary, or secondary. The primary imagination I hold to be the living power and prime agent of all human perception, and as a repetition in the finite mind of the eternal act of creation in the infinite I AM. The secondary imagination I consider as an echo of the former, co-existing with the conscious will, yet still as identical with the primary in the kind of its agency, and differing only in degree, and in the mode of its operation. It dissolves, diffuses, dissipates, in order to recreate; or where this process is rendered impossible, yet still at all events it struggles to idealize and unify. It is essentially vital, even as all objects (as objects) are essentially fixed and dead.”
Irish dramatist George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950):
“Must then Christ perish in torment in every age to save those that have no imagination?”
Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862) thought:
“The intellect of most men is barren. They neither fertilize or are fertilized. It is the marriage of soul with nature that makes the intellect fruitful, that gives birth to imagination.”
American poet William Carlos Williams (1883-1963) had this to say about imagination:
“By listening to the language of his locality the poet begins to learn his craft. It is his function to lift, by use of his imagination and the language he hears, the material conditions and appearances of his environment to the sphere of the intelligence where they will have new currency.”
Swiss philosopher Henri Frederic Amiel (1821-1881) spoke the following which warns of leaning on imagination more than reason – and results in diminishment of one’s understanding:
“The natural liking for the false has several causes: the inheritance of prejudices, which produces an unconscious habit, a slavery; the predominance of the imagination over reason, which affects the understanding; the predominance of the passions over the conscience, which depraves the heart; the predominance of the will over the intelligence, which vitiates (lessens effectiveness) the character.”
Taking philosopher Amiel’s words we could say the imagination exercise of looking backward from the future would be beneficial, if beneficial at all, through equal dosing of imagination and reason – reasonable imagination.
The following quote from Scythian philosopher Anacharsis from 600 B.C.(!) is off the topic of imagination, but I found it profound in that it points out how long an unequal justice system has existed:
“Written laws are like spiders’ webs, and will like them only entangle and hold the poor and weak, while the rich and powerful easily break through them.”
Perhaps on the imaginary journey to the future where this generation has passed on, we may look back and see that a totally equal system of justice became implemented by humanity – finally correcting a moral and ethical problem spoken of over 2,700 years ago by Anacharsis, and ever since, including American dramatist Eugene O’Neill (1888-1953):
From The Emperor Jones (1920) “For de little stealin’ dey gits you in jail soon or late. For the big stealin’ dey makes you emporer and puts you in de Hall o’ Fame when you croaks.”
Perhaps this slight detour from imagination to unequal justice is not as irrelevant as it looks. With respect to my original suggestion that there could be some benefit in imagining time after this generation’s passing – and looking back in one’s mind’s eye to see what type of world we left to the generations after us – current reports of inequality of wealth and justice show us it is very real and problematic.
So, take note when travelling into the future of whether wealth and justice inequality are still present and practiced on Earth. Take note of whether tens of thousands of children still pass away every day from starvation and curable disease, without any mainstream media reports about this – one of the most obscene and shameful statistics of human history.
See with your mind’s eye and take note if there are wars and killings still occurring: still fought for natural resources, wealth, and power as men cannot come to agree on ways to share the Earth’s abundance. Through your mind’s eye see and take note of whether the efforts to keep the truth of Earth’s realities away from the people’s awareness are still on-going, constraining development of good ideas for bettering the lives of all people, because the truth, whole truth, and nothing but the truth is not fully and totally known.
Take note of the words spoken by the world’s leaders. Are the speeches of political, religious, business, education, and military/law enforcement leaders fully truthful and forthcoming, aimed at increasing brotherhood, cooperation, peace, and solving problems and differences with dialogue and reason? Is the greatest focus being placed on passing the world – the Earth – on to future generations in its most healthy, beautiful, and love-based condition?
One can only guess at how many of the men and women who become seen as among the world’s greatest thinkers in history have spent any significant amount of time using their imaginations looking backward from the future. It could be safe to say that, depending on one’s idea of what a “great thinker” is, all the great thinkers throughout history have used their imaginations in such a way. Why can this be said? Because all these men and women thought seriously about dying, an essential aspect of philosophy.
Dying is the greatest fear of human beings. So, this writing is “inconvenient” for most people to read, because it suggests voluntarily entering into one’s greatest fear. One can only stand back in awe upon considering the entire life journey from birth to death, and the billions over billions of thoughts men and women have on the most fantastic, sacred, and inexplicable mystery called life on Earth.
So, are there benefits to derive from thinking about the afterlife – from the perspective of any accomplishments met or unmet, goals attained or left unattained, and leaving this world in good condition for the next generation or a world that will challenge the next groups of humanity with difficulties?
Perhaps there are benefits of a kind that are given when reality – according to each person’s definition of reality – becomes intensely focused upon. The benefits of such an activity derive from looking at life from a different viewpoint and perspective.
(Thanks to The Jazz Channel @ YouTube for “Cantaloupe Island” performed by Herbie Hancock and Pat Metheny / Creative, imaginative music)