Requiem to the Fantastic Imagination

There is nothing left to write fantasies about, except witches and imaginary gods. There was a time, an era in which Jules Verne and Arthur Conan Doyle or even earlier when Rabelais and Swift imagined fantastical things, when the Universe was still mysterious. The workings of the world around us were unknown to us, and there was drama in imagining where the limits of our knowledge would lie and what would happen when we pioneered human consciousness to those limits.

Those days are now gone, not because Science has uncovered everything there is to know, but because it has at least exposed the essential aspects of everything. We know how big things can become, and what will happen when they become that big — distances, sizes or amounts of energy. More importantly, we know the limits of human perception. Technology will not allow us to see a quark, even if it allows us to conceive of such a thing in our minds and mathematical models.

Even William Gibson admits of the impossibility of predicting the future, in a recent interview with Silicon.com. The implication of this which Gibson doesn’t touch upon is that, bereft of this once-fertile fount of story-telling, we are forced to move on to realms that simply cannot exist, rather than those that only don’t exist in the present but might come to fruition some day. The popularity of Harry Potter is partially explained by our thirst for worlds far away from ours, but close enough that the sentiments and conflicts still sound human. Earlier, this shift was achieved by injecting a dose of technological advances, but today, it has to be done via a wave of a magic wand, or the arrival in our world of not just alien, but completely imaginary beings. The strangers in our fantasies are not aliens who we have to fear, strike a camaraderie with, or at least anthromorphize mildly so that they fit in our stories; they have been laid off and replaced with interchangeable characters from our hoary myths, legends and sacraments.

Where will we go from here? The answer is obvious — our mind and its inner mechanics. This final frontier, already being explored for over six decades, still largely remains a mystery. The cartography of our consciousness is as exciting to imagine, report on and travel through as the unexplored wildernesses were to pre-Information Age travelers of uninhabited geographies. Everything we know today about our neural pathways is largely conjecture, even though it is admittedly conjecture that is deeply informed and that serves admirably well in explaining the ways in which humans behave and react to their surroundings.

The gaps left behind by our fuzzy understanding of our minds are fallow grounds to plant our exotic imaginings, like patches of alleyways between concrete blocks of city buildings. What is unknown is both the framework and the potential of the mind. It’s not just a question of how it functions, but how much more it can do, that will become the subject of our fantasies for ourselves. Whether we can learn to love and rage and aspire and hate with a greater range than we have shown already; whether we can acquire new emotions even that we haven’t even named; whether we will interact with each other in vaster numbers of ways — all this remains to be written about and, of course, to be shaped and fulfilled in reality.

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