March 18, 2014

The Importance of Fantasy (III)

        It’s time for me to harp some more on the value of fantasy in developing the human imagination and intellect.  But don’t take my word for it.  Here are a few much-admired achievers in a variety of real-and-earnest scientific fields explaining how important they deem creative fantasy.
 
  If I had influence with the good fairy who is supposed to preside over the christening of all children, I should ask that her gift to each child in the world be a sense of wonder so indestructible that it would last throughout life.
        Rachel Carson (1907-1964) was the biologist whose observations about pesticides such as DDT brought awareness of the need for conservation to the American public and led to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.  She points out the connection between the capacity to wonder and marvel, and the urge to study and value the natural world - and the importance of maintaing this sense of wonder into adulthood, rather than outgrowing it in order to be “mature.”

        All the works of man have their origin in creative fantasy.
        Carl Jung (1875-1961) was the enormously influential psychiatrist and psychotherapist who founded analytical psychology.  (I’ll forgive him the sexism of his wording, seeing as he was born in 1875.)  It may seem obvious that nothing is created that isn’t first imagined, yet just this week there was a letter to the editor in my town newspaper making once again the ever-popular claim that the arts are a waste of time and money in our schools because they aren’t practical.  But what could possibly be more practical than giving our children the tool they need at the most basic level before they can accomplish anything productive at all: the tool of creative fantasy?

        It has been written that the shortest and best way between two truths of the real domain often passes through the imaginary one.
        Jacques Hadamard (1865-1963) was the mathematician who made major contributions to number theory and differential geometry (among other things.)  He was also particularly interested in how creativity works, and around 1900 he surveyed 100 leading physicists about their own thought processes.  You can see something about his conclusions in the comment above, finding that introspection, wordless imagining, and spontaneity were at least as vital as logical, calculating cognition.

        Now I’d absolutely never say that we don’t need logic.  Indeed, we clearly need a lot more of it than we currently see!  But I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, that we need logic paired with imagination -- and that one of the best tools there is for fostering imagination is fantasy.

[Pictures: 4. Landscape with ruins, dodecahedron, and rhombohedron;
7. Landscape with ruins and penetration of rhombododecahedron and hexahedron, wood block prints from Geometria et Perspectiva by Lorenz Stör, 1567 (Images from TU.)]

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