28 November 2011

The Tyranny of the Imagination

An important error of the modern age is that with so many people dreaming up so many things so often, we are apt to place our prejudice on the side of the human imagination.

7,000,000,000  minds work alongside our own. I forgive anyone who might catch themselves feeling that, freed from the shackles of reality and yet focused by the immediacy of the human condition, this increasingly-interconnected system of cogitation should be capable of exploring every possible avenue of thought, solving any problem, and predicting all that might be found in this single, predetermined (mostly) reality. Witness the generally-accepted Rule 34 as a contemporary and humorous example of our confidence in this regard. Indeed, I even find myself believing this once in a while.

We all know, when given half a second to think about it, that this just isn't true. The combined work of all the scientists in the world daily reveal details about our universe that we as a species have not comprehended before - indeed, some things are discovered which simply defy the powers of comprehension for most of us. Some might argue that there are people who may have conceived those things before, yet their thoughts are unknown to us because of the tyrannies of distance, time, language, attention, etc. A glance at the corpus of human fancy in the form of our species' literary traditions, up to and including all forms of story-telling - spoken, written, hypertextual, film, game, musical, theatrical, or otherwise - will reveal this supposition to be similarly false. Certainly a corpus this expansive should constitute a representative slice of human thought, yet from this very "wellspring," cliché and genre sprang; it has never created anything that did not have a human experience to back it up. Who imagined a world even as mundane as the inner realms of Jupiter before they were discovered?

Throw this much money, time, technology, and human creativity at a project, and you still end up in a mostly earth-like rainforest with humanoid inhabitants. Not only are we incapable, but oftentimes we are willfully cliché.
(exciting conclusion after the jump)