Note — Jun 05, 2022

Why We Need a New Kind of Education: Imagination Studies

It’s quite fascinating how ‘we’ seem to always want to split things in two, making everything two sides, ideally two sides fighting or at least opposing each other. This is another example. In this case, Stephen T Asma is trying to bridge the “logic of the chasm,” according to which “facts are the province of experimental science, while values are the domain of religion and art; the body (and brain) is the machinery studied by scientists, while the mind is a quasi-mystical reality to be understood by direct subjective experience; reason is the faculty that produces knowledge, while emotion generates art; STEM is one kind of education, and the liberal arts are wholly other.”

He proposes that imagination is that unifying ‘thing,’ not imagination as fabulation but imagination as the creation of world and meaning. Asma believes that it is “a brain-based (embodied) system of capacities and applications.” Often seen as useless daydreaming, he reminds us that we are constantly using our imagination, projecting ourselves a few minutes in the future, inventing a new solution or pathway, and attaching disparate things into a new one. What is today often lauded as creativity, Asma reassembles here under the broader term of imagination and proposes to enter the chasm to descend in the “submerged mythopoetic cognition, and develop an entirely new way of understanding learning that embraces the true engine of the mind – imagination.”

Some might find it, in part, a bit esoterical, but take the time to read, it not only seems like a promising direction for joining the multiple halves or sides he talks about but also connects to other topics oft mentioned here, like the rediscovery of an ancient non-scientific connection to nature, to create new paths, and to our pressing need to envision the futures we want. I also just finished Future: A Very Short Introduction (thanks to everyone who recommended it) and Gidley’s split between “technotopian” and “human-centred” futures lines up quite well with Asma’s piece.

If we treat the imagination as merely a faculty of the mind, then we will miss the dynamic action-oriented aspect: it is part of the organism’s pragmatic attempt to get maximum grip on its changing environment. […]

Popular culture recognises only the fantasy version of artistic imagination and fails to appreciate that everyday conversation, daydreaming, map navigation, political strategising, scientific hypothesising, moral reflection, field surgery, cooking, reading and lovemaking are all imaginative activities, too. […]

Imagination, understood as the mind’s ur-operating system – the system within the system – generates our human biases, our visual communication grammar (also music, dance, etc), our political tribalism, our search for meaning, our scientific research programmes, and our virtual rehearsal space for social life. […]

In my view, this is also the core of sense-making or meaning-making activity and, once recognised, we can see that imaginative work such as storytelling, image-making, song, dance and so on are some of the earliest and continually powerful forms of knowledge.