Saturday, June 27, 2020

Lost Knowledge of the Imagination

Lost Knowledge of the ImaginationLost Knowledge of the Imagination by Gary Lachman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I am at a bit of a loss as to where to start with this book. To call it "life-changing" would be false, but I can clearly see how it could be life-changing to some. For myself, the term "life-restoring" seems most appropriate. I have not been so deeply affected by a book in a long, long, long time. I will be re-reading this book multiple times. Saying "I can't recommend it strongly enough" seems entirely inadequate.

The title Lost Knowledge of the Imagination, while catchy, doesn't capture, for me, what this book does or can do, or what it did for me. Restored Hope for the Inner Life just begins to approach my feelings.

As a child, I had, as they say, a wild imagination. Part of it was escapism - I was raised in the military during the Cold War. There were lots of reasons to not want to think about outside reality. So, I created a comfortable inner reality and often found myself retreating into it. Reading, drawing, long walks or bike rides by myself, music - these were all escapes for me. Life was not always happy, much of the time far from it (I suffer from occasional depression even now, but much more so as a child), but I was afforded the luxury of an escape route through the means I've already described. As a teenager, with more of a need for social interaction, I found myself among others who sought escape and found new means of escape, mostly through drugs and alcohol (though music and roleplaying games were also an important part of my self-medication). After a hard crash and facing the threat of a very long prison term, I became much more religious and gave up drinking and drugs. I found an awesome woman whom I married and we have raised four wonderful children. But life has been hard, as it is, I realize, for everyone. I'm not special in this regard: life is difficult, oftentimes almost unbearably horrific, for every human being. Realizing this, a certain amount of jadedness, subconsciously meant to protect my emotional self, I believe, crowded out a great deal of the innocence, wonder, and hope that I had in my inner life as a child. That's not to say I've become some kind of empty shell, far from it! But my inner life, my soul, has changed dramatically from my childhood. There's no going back, I know, but going forward can be, at times, excruciating.

The need to escape is felt by many. Look at the ever-increasing money pumped into the entertainment "industry" for evidence of this (the word "industry" is interesting, as it puts entertainment on the same level as food production, building houses, making machines that sustain our lives and livelihoods. It implies that entertainment is a life-need.) - we look to the outside world to feed our need to avoid thinking about the horrible things that happen to us and those we love. We apply a topical narcotic, supplied to us by outside sources, to make us temporarily forget our inner pain.

This escape into fantasy is explicitly not what Lachman is arguing for in this book. He is careful to make a distinction between Fantasy, collage-like constructions of what we observe coming into our sensory input from the outside, and Imagination, which is something that emerges from within us, rather than a collection of things from without. Imagination is the activation of the inner life, the life that plays out inside your consciousness every day, that place where no one else can go (though we intuitively know that others have a similar place "inside" of them). Note that imagination, as defined here, is more of a verb than a noun. It is always active and going on within us. Think of the difference between "thought" and "thinking". We can think thoughts, but to think about thinking, the actual mechanism of thinking, requires stepping beyond the mere acknowledgement that we have thoughts. "How do I think?" (not what do I think about is an important question to ask oneself when exploring the inner life.

Really engaging with that question opens up doors. One such door is the thought that there is a truth beyond the external inputs of data coming from the outside world, that the way you apprehend the world from your inner-self is every bit as "true" as all the scientific data in the world. The balance between these two truths is what Lachman seeks to restore. He argues, convincingly, that while science and hard data have provided one way of knowing, that there is another way, and that this other way of knowing arises, again, not as a construct of what we observe outside us, but from somewhere within us. We apprehend the world via our thinking, and all the extraneous data "out there" is simply that, until we observe and act upon it.

There is no outer world until we complete it with our inner one.

The idea here is not a rejection of science, but it is a rejection of "Scientism," where subdividing the world and explaining it purely from the viewpoint of measurable, explainable data has become a religion in itself. Scientism has become, since the Enlightenment, the predominant way of knowing, and it has crowded out all other kinds of knowing in the public sphere. Of course, this happened as a retort against the reductionist religious view of the world, often enforced by violence and murder, that was predominant in Western society until the Late Renaissance. But the worship of measurable data and step-by-step explanation of phenomena has simply stepped in and taken the slot left vacant by the churches.

Lachman shows that the way of knowing as hinted at in Lost Knowledge of the Imagination is not at odds with science, but that the two are ends of the same pole. At times, it is more beneficial to lean toward the scientific end, at others, it is more beneficial to lean toward the imagination. Science and imagination are not mutually exclusive and, in fact, moments of Gnosis on one end often lead to a more nuanced understanding and increased output from the other.

As I said in my introduction, this book has had a profound effect on me. I feel that by reading and contemplating it, my sense of wonder has begun to rush back in, that sense that I had as a child when discovering new beautiful aspects of the universe that I had not known before. Along with that sense of wonder is a newfound hope I haven't felt in some time. Of course, this is my imagination being re-awakened. Will yours undergo the same restoration as mine? Only you can tell. Only you. YOU!

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