Adam Blatner

Words and Images from the Mind of Adam Blatner

Get a Life! Considering Pseudo-Reality

Originally posted on August 23, 2011

I think modern media and other devices offer an opportunity to expand and enrich our imaginations; beyond a certain point, though, they can dilute the effective experience and action of the self.

The Psychology of Imagination

Consider this hypothesis: Psyche is expandable to a startling extent. In addition to mere perceptions and actions, the human mind adds emotion, and the thoughts that support those emotions. It discovers that it can interpret experiences in different ways, make slightly difficult challenges “interesting.” It can make mundane activities a bit of a “game,” discovering play elements. It can deepen the sense of meaning of an experience by savoring the back-story, the history, and imagining the predicaments of ancestors. The mind, indeed, enjoys discovering ever-new perspectives for enjoying life, and going beyond, enjoying fantasized alternatives.

The mind paradoxically experiences several things through imagination:
– a slight sense of mastery by exaggerating the danger or complexities possible. What might otherwise be simple worry becomes interesting dramatic tension.
– a sense of relief at considering how it might have been worse, or how one escaped. A taste for a modicum of scarey stories, tragedy, and the like allow again for a deepening of dramatic tension
  – a taste for the bitter, mixed with some sweet, in food and drink as well as story
  – an extension of significance into more general fields, area, importance, philosophy, life in general

So, to restate the initial thesis, I want to propose that it is natural and a positive activity to develop imagination. We don’t know how far this skill can be developed, but it is far greater than it was imagined a century ago. Part of this skill is enhanced by experiencing new models for the imagination, models delivered by a variety of experiences:
  – travel, scenery, natural and man-made; travel in reality and in movies. The former connects with physical involvement, subtle cues of having actually been there, walked those paths; the latter offers more opportunity to reflect on high points, selected views that may be optimal, unobstructed by smog or weather, back-story narration or views, and close-ups.
   – fantasy enhanced by the creative efforts of artists—e.g., the variety of pictures of fairies, goblins, and other cratures, Disney movies, other fantasy movies, becoming ever more vivid with computer graphics
  – science fiction, similarly enhanced by technology, a whole genre of literature evolving
  – television drama, game shows, comedies, commercials, etc.
  – movies, radio, computer games, theatre, circuses, freak shows
  – adventure and amusement parks, theme parks, new interactive museums
  – new toys and gimmicks, puzzles and games
  – new equipment that make new sports possible, such as skateboarding, mountain biking, scuba diving
  – new hobby tools that open up microscopic worlds, astronomical telescopes, photography, etc.
… and all these an innumerable others have expanded horizons in many ways that were undreamed of a century ago.

As a result, mind has been able to expand into many fields of actual and imagined spheres, generating facts and fantasies about all these realms. But I have a hunch that there is an optimal range of inputs, beyond which problems arise. I don’t know the amount, but at a rough guess I think that 34-40% input from all media is optimal, stimulating imagination as much as it can. Beyond that, problems arise.

The Dangers of Excessive Imagination

When there is too much extrinsic imagery from various sources—and the point is that these have expanded exponentially in variety and intensity—then people begin to become “spread too thin,” of experiencing overload, and of losing some abilities for focused attention in the course of this expansion. Part of life nowadays involves the challenge of filtering out imagery and novelty in mainstream media that is not relevant to the person. The problem is that it’s not at all clear to most folks what is in fact relevant and what is not.

In addition, I wonder if there is not a clear and present danger of becoming caught up in the illusions of vicarious living rather than the more grounding-in-the-body “really living.” When one really lives, there are a number of features:
   – one feels one’s own body as having been involved
   – relations are more encounters, with others being surprising, themselves spontaneous—and there is also the experience of authentic presence and the thickness of subtle non-verbal communication—i.e., an I-Thou relationship rather than an I-It relationship.
   – memories are more fixed and personal, this happened to me as an individual person, my self, rather than I enjoyed the role of vicariously being a character in a drama or a hero in a viewed sports event.
    – my interactivity was even more in my control than when I played a video game

This is getting tricky, because it is the challenge for many computer game makers to generate as great a degree of verisimilitude—meaning, it really feels real! So the seductions mount to live in a virtual world more and more.

I think one of the challenges for this and the next generations is to develop the skill of finding a sense of personal direction, personal goals, destiny, self, around which one can generate priorities, in contrast to being seduced into whatever is up and vivid in the moment. What do you think?

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