The Emancipation of Imagination

In 1817 the English poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge described “the willing suspension of disbelief” as an act of “poetic faith” through which a reader’s accepts fanciful aspects of a fictional work. Without this willingness the reader cannot surrender into any story that contain extraordinary circumstances or characters.

Those of us who believe that human beings have the opportunity to participate in their own further evolution may need to apply the same suspension of disbelief to ourselves.

For instance, I am here writing this post. You are there somewhere, a few hours, days, weeks or months from now, reading this post. The fact that we are not together is obvious and indisputable. Or so it seems.

Am I not there with you wherever you are? Are you not experiencing me through these words? Are you not here with me as I write with you in mind?

We have a relentless habit of locating ourselves in the experience of the embodied present. Here where I feel my fingers touching this keypad and see the words appearing on my screen is where I locate myself. I feel like I am ‘here’ and not ‘there’ with you as you read these words.

You, on the other hand, feel that you are in your now where you are reading these words on your screen. I experience myself to be the one who is typing; you experience yourself to be the one who is reading. The fact that we are separate is obvious and indisputable.

Rene Descartes helped famously declared, “I think therefore I am.” What he was asserting was that a human being is made of a body and a mind. We are both. We have a body that somehow has access to a mysterious inner world of thought and feeling.

This self-image of a fused duality of mind and body is the one we inherited in part from him. And so as I write this blog post I feel like I am here writing and not there where you are reading. We are beings separated in both time and space.

The fundamental separation that we feel in time and space with other people may be something we need to challenge in our experience. Is it true? Am I limited to this body and mind? Is it possible that I extend beyond it? And if I do are their any limits to what I am, where I am or when I am?

The experience of being an embodied mind is an important part of who we are, but I don’t believe it is the limit of who we are, or even the essence of who we are.

Maybe we exist everywhere we have an effect. Perhaps I am there with you while you read this post even though you are not reading it at the same time that I am writing it.

I believe that our current experience of being human is just the beginning. If we are willing to suspend our disbelief long enough, we will discover possibilities for human existence that we cannot imagine. Maybe, if I suspend disbelief long enough I can feel myself with you right now as you read this post sometime in the future from where I sit writing it.

Coleridge and the other Romantic philosophers, artists, poets and playwrights were unwilling to limit what was possible to only what we could imagine in our current form. Recently, I had the opportunity to conduct a radio interview with Dr. Timothy Morton of Rice University called “Are You a Romantic?” If you want to learn more about this remarkable literary movement and how it is with us today please listen to a recording of the interview here.