Abstract Details

Consciousness and Culture in the Imaginal World  Burton Voorhees (Center for Science, Athabasca University, Victoria, BC Canada)   C25

Imaginal World is a term coined by Henri Corbin (1964) to refer to a world of imagination without implying that elements of this world are merely imaginary. Following early Islamic mystics Ibn Arabi and Suhrawardi, this world is conceived as being intermediate between the sensory world and the world of intelligible (or divine) forms. The basic idea behind this is found in Plato, with his suggestion that mathematics provides a bridge between the mundane material world and the world of ideal forms. A thought of a triangle, for example, is generally accompanied by an image, but the thought is of the abstract idea of a triangle. Visitors to the imaginal world encounter various entities, symbolic individuals, cultural figures, and so on that, if understood, provide direct links to abstract levels of reality (as an image of a triangle may provide useful in proving an abstract theorem about triangles). In a recent more down-to-earth study, Asma (2017) has proposed a theory of the evolution of imagination, focused on its importance for improvisation and creativity. He suggests that the ability to improvise creatively, rather than reason, is what sets humans apart from other animals. While triggering words can evoke imaginal experiences, the major point about imagination is its sensory/motor nature. The elements manipulated in imaginal constructions are sensory images, bodily sensations, and motor schema. Because these connect directly to emotions, encounters with denizens of the imaginal world may have a powerful emotional impact, ranging from the joy of a successful inspiration to the terror of a nightmare image. Cultural idea systems play on this emotional linkage to stabilize themselves in a population through the development of images that act as cultural attractors (e.g., Sperber, 1996), tying basic psychological drives to cultural beliefs and accepted forms of behavior (e.g., Voorhees, et al 2019). In this way, culture becomes an agent of human self-domestication through imaginal constructions in which culture bearers are immersed. The thrust of this presentation will be to elaborate on the above comments about the imaginal world; to argue for greater reflective consciousness in the development and transmission of imaginal content; and for a need for general education in how this content is to be understood in an overall context. References: Asma, Stephen T. (2017) The Evolution of Imagination. Chicago: University of Chicago Press; Corbin, Henri (1964) Mundus imaginalis or the imaginary and the imaginal. Cahiers internationaux de Symbolesme 6, 3 - 26; Sperber, Dan (1996) Explaining Culture. Oxford: Basil Blackwell; Voorhees, Burton; Dwight Read; and Liane Gabora (2019) Identity, kinship, and the evolution of cooperation. Current Anthropology (in press).