Monday, February 27, 2006

Imagination vs. Reality...

I once heard it said that anything we can imagine must be based on something already perceived. I don't remember the circumstances, or even who the conversation was with, but this statement my mind has never left. When the Wright brothers imagined flight, they based it on birds. When dragons are told in legend and fairy tale, I suppose they are based on giant lizards and dinosaurs. We cannot imagine that which isn't based on something already in existence, having been perceived by ourselves or someone we know. Nothing exists man-made which isn't based in some way upon our senses.

Which brings up the question: where did the preconceived notion of a deity come from? Do we imagine him/her/it based on some past experience lodged in our DNA, senses of our distant ancestors reaching through time? Or is this notion based on our imaginings of what we could be as humans?

We constantly use our imaginations: "Oh my god, I could have just died!" (Our imagination when we have just avoided a near-collision on the bypass.) "Oh my god, the bank's going to repossess my car!" (Our imagination when we think we might not have enough money coming in for the bills going out.)

So when we imagine a god, or a deity, from whence does this imagining come? Religious doctrine dictates that this is god himself revealing himself to you, or the divine trying to "save" you if we follow a conservative Christian perspective. But religious imaginings span the globe in all forms, from Brahma, Vishnu and Siva to Jesus to the sun, moon and stars. From snakes and other creatures to elements like earth and water, fire and wind. Once could surmise from this observation alone that god is all. But why must god be? Why does the collective thoughts of mankind center on a divine at all?

Think of that near-car crash in which you imagined you could have just died. You know this could have been a cause of death from things you have seen on the news, maybe from a real-life experience of your own, possibly just from reading an article. You have never experienced death yourself (or you'd be already dead imagining you could have died!), but you imagine that you could have. You are forcing your mind to think of something that you have not experienced physically, but maybe through your ears and eyes. Your mind leaps to this conclusion based on those senses alone.

But to imagine deity, what sense has been invaded or overtaken to imagine this?

Some attribute random coincidences to the divine. Others see "signs," such as the woman in Texas who thought God was telling her to kill her baby when she saw a spider crawling on him. And still others think everything is planned by a deity, no ifs, ands, or buts. These are all certainly things our senses pick up on: the spider, the winning lotto numbers, grandma's sudden return from the brink of death. But why attribute them to an unsensible?
For eons, the very definition in a single society has changed with the times. Our imaginings of a deity must change with society, or society would die off, I believe. People used to believe you needed your physical things in the afterlife. Then the idea of god providing even in the afterlife lead to a belief that we need not be buried (cremated, mummified) without physical things. Then there was this discussion of hell, purgatory, heaven, Abraham's bosom, nirvana, enlightenment, all kinds of things I'm not even aware of were thought of the afterlife. But this is really a tangent.

The collective mindset of a deity has been discussed by ergo in several posts in various forms, but why... why why why? is there a concept of a deity?

I suppose some see it a "fire insurance." Others as the need for someone or something to give them values or morals. I believe this deity concept is rooted in our very need for non-responsibility. Our need to "blame" someone for that which we cannot understand in our world. This is certainly always been evident in the Catholic history. And when the church's beliefs were proven wrong by science, by man's imagination, our concept of god and his "word" has had to change as well, though the church made it very hard to do so. But there is always something we haven't answered yet. Why people die, why children die, why murder happens, why volcanoes erupt, why earthquakes happen. We have theories on all these things, and many others. An understanding of all things may ever be had, of course. And hence a belief in a deity will always persist, I think. And as long as we have god, we will always rail against that to find the answers. God is good for society in general, as people always need something to challenge them into doing something. Whether that be survival, or finding purpose, or trying to end an "act of god," as long as there is "god," we will continue to be enlightened in how we can live without this overarching concept.

Perhaps one could surmise that the idea of a deity is an evolutionary necessity?

Of course, maybe I just need sleep. At least I get a chance to use all my cool clip art!


Ergo Sum said...

"I once heard it said that anything we can imagine must be based on something already perceived."

Are you sure you didn't read this on my blog? I posted on the exact same issue... speculating, and then arriving at a conclusion. It was a post from November of last year at this link:

Anyway. As regards to why we have a concept of God? Because the God-concept is merely the projection of the Ideal that is observed in the real world in us and things around us.
For example, because we die, we project our desire to continue existing onto a Being that exists and has existed forever.
All God-concepts are idealizations.. it's Omniscience our lack of absolute knowlege, it's Omnipotence, our self-perception of weakness, it's moral perfection, our moral failings, etc.

Jason Hughes said...

I wish I could say it was from you I heard that, my friend, for you have a brilliant mind. But alas, I heard this many years ago (maybe I met you once upon a time?) and had at one time argued against this to my own failing as such. But I will be looking up this post you speak of now, and hopefully learn from your wisdom as well... cheers!

Ergo Sum said...

You think too highly of me. Probably undeservedly so... and I don't think I'm being modest in saying that.

But thank you for your generous compliments. :)

Jason Hughes said...

... or maybe you're too hard on yourself?

There aren't many people in the world to think highly of, let alone stand to be around...

so I will continue to think it... :D

Have a good one!

Kelly said...

We have a concept of God because it is impossible not to have some reference or contact with the idea of God.

I have said it often that I think that as humans (with those annoying brains we have), you would invent a "God" if you were never told the idea. Let's say you put a baby in the wilderness with only supplies to keep them alive, but the child had no human contact. I think s/he would still imagine a person saving them, a savior, if you will. It's our nature to overcalucate and want to figure everything out.

Even agnostics are said to be cowardly in their refusal to state any part of creation as fact, but to me it would seem more "Godly" not to state it as fact but to assume it was something bigger than yourself.

Then again, I am stalling because I should be studying for my test, so I'm probably talking out my ass.

Anonymous said...

Keep up the good work
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Nikoya said...

Very intriguing... It's interesting to read this seeing that it was published in 2006.

In 2011, how do you answer these questions that you wrote about the concept of a Deity now?

Google ranks this page #3 when you search for "Imagination Vs. Reality", out of 90,000+ articles. Even if it is due to it's age or not, great writing.


Jason Hughes said...

Thanks, Nikoya! I've been considering revisiting this topic as, while the idea of where god(s) came from still intrigues me, I think I have a firmer grasp on the mind set which produces such imaginings... And #3 on google search for this topic? Wowsers!!