Some recent readings have conspired with the launch of SFIP’s collaboration with artist Sydney Cooper and the Portray.It project’s design phase, to make us ponder the essential role of the imagination in deep innovation.
Let’s start with the magnificent Marina Warner, one of our most profound scholars of and thinkers in the realms of magic, myth, and mystery. In her new book, “Stranger Magic: Charmed States and the Arabian Nights,” she offers the following observations (emphasis added):
“Magic is not simply a matter of the occult or the esoteric, of astrology, Wicca and Satanism; it follows processes inherent to human consciousness and connected to constructive and imaginative thought. The faculties of imagination — dream, projection, fantasy — are bound up with the faculties of reasoning and essential to making the leap beyond the known into the unknown. At one pole (myth), magic is associated with poetic truth, at another (the history of science) with inquiry and speculation. It was bound up with understanding physical forces in nature and led to technical ingenuity and discoveries. Magical thinking structures the processes of imagination, and imagining something can and sometimes must precede the fact or the act; it has shaped many features of Western civilization. But its influence has been constantly disavowed since the Enlightenment, and consequently misunderstood.”
In other words, the synthesis SFIP and many others seek between imaginative and scientific modes of problem solving actually have deep origins, extending far back in time. The split between superstition and science was one of the most momentous schisms in intellectual history, but indeed both derived from a common ancestor: our profound need and desire to understand the causes of observed phenomena, and to try to influence them to our benefit.
On that note, we turn to a recent and insightful post on the FastCo.Create blog by Jim Hannas. He talks about the shifts that have occurred, and recently accelerated, in the respective roles of technologists and artists, and concludes with this provocative thesis:
“I think the artist, even more than government, has become the one who is doing long-term thinking about what’s happening, what are the implications, what are we doing to ourselves? And they’re some of the only ones, really. An artist’s job is to sit outside what’s happening and reflect back to us where the human is in this. I think it’s a very valuable exercise. It’s just the opposite exercise of what most people probably think it is. It’s not for technologists to realize the visions of artists. It feels much more like it’s for artists to contextualize the visions of technologists.”
And so we move forward into the realm of collaborative trans-disciplinary problem solving, and artist-driven innovation. Stand by…