Lately, evolution has been on my mind. The whole notion that every single one of our attributes stems from a necessary purpose fascinates me. But what about imagination—the cornerstone of the inventor, the necessary tool for the artist, and the life-blood of a writer? What survival element did imagination possess that allowed it to flourish into what it is today?
A quick Google search provides a host of answers. I’ll go with the one from Richard Dawkins because it seems pretty easy to grasp. Dawkins, the atheist-extraordinaire, opines that imagination started out as simulation processes helping our ancestors avoid physical trial and error and then exploded in leaps and bounds.
Although I get where he’s coming from, as imagining the pain one might experience from falling off a cliff would definitely do the trick in teaching our ancestors not to fall off cliffs, it’s the explosion by leaps and bounds part that puzzles me. What evolutionary purpose allowed creative imagination to flourish in a way that resulted in Salvador Dali’s paintings or Stephen King’s books? How did we go from using imagination to avoid falling off cliffs to creating paintings about melting clocks and stories about killer cars and dogs?
My quick Google search didn’t come up with an answer for that one (although I’m sure it’s out there), but my personal thought is that natural selection fostered creative imagination because it’s the backbone of advancement. Think about it. Without imagination, we’d still be living in caves trying to ward off jungle cats. Instead, thanks to imagination, we have the car, the plane, the TV, the computer, the internet, smartphones, etc.
Yes, science and knowledge make these things work, but imagination was the tool to even think about creating them in the first place. Take the interplay between Need, Imagination and Knowledge using the phone as an example. Need asked, how can I talk to someone who isn’t close by? Imagination answered Need by coming up with a device that transmits our voice. Knowledge then pitched in and provided the science and know-how to make it possible. Which is probably the reason for Einstein’s famous quote—“Imagination is more important than knowledge.”
But like many of evolution’s end-results, creative imagination may not have survived and flourished if it wasn’t enjoyable and exciting, which it most definitely is. And it’s this fun tool of ours that has led to every single product and device we own, every book we read and every movie we watch. So when we enjoy thinking up new story lines and characters, or enjoy reading about them, let’s not forget to give a little thanks to evolution.
Maybe for my next guest blog post, I’ll try to figure out who’s to blame for the not-so-fun task of editing (thank God for Elizabeth!).