My last post concerned the way computers don’t read. All they do is process information, irrespective of whether the zeroes and ones are to do with the colour of the image of a fluffy kitten on Facebook, a pixel that depicts part of the tail of the same kitten, the input of the user to post a ‘like’ on the image that their friend posted… to the computer, it is utterly irrelevant what those zeroes and ones mean. Computers don’t think, leave alone imagine things.
Now to many unimagniative people, Rudolf Steiner said some remarkably daft things.
At least, they are daft if you only read the words. Reading words is like the computer just clicking through the bytes: when a writer uses only words to describe his thoughts, there is no real connection between the writer and the reader. When this concept first formed in my mind, I called it ‘the divide’. Esotericists have another name for it, which I only learned later. You see, when a writer uses only words to describe his thoughts, he assumes they mean the same to everybody. The problem is that the meaning the reader understands may not be the same. In this case, neither reader nor writer is going to know if they did think the same thing because few people know how to communicate effectively (1).
Now my friend Hendrik, whose ability to read rarely ventures past the official meaning of the words, stated that it was impossible to describe something without using the word itself. Well, in a world where the imagination is a foreign and dangerous place (2), words need to be tied down so that they know how to behave.In short, Hendrik is not a gifted communicator.
It won’t take too much by way of the imagination to realize that his statement was a red rag to the bull of my imagination. Now imagine that situation in the close confines of the china shop that is the delicately placed mind of the unimaginative.
You see, the best way to communicate a thought is through imagery of the kind used in the last sentence. We all know what bulls are and we all know what china shops are. Even if these are only vague images in our mind, they still have a concrete and universal meaning that the complex concept lying behind a term cannot hope to possess.
So, rising to the challenge Hendrik inadvertently posed me, I responded:
“you turn on the tap, and washing your hands in the stream that flows, it feels cool and refreshing. The soap when dampened forms a lather, making your hands feel slippery and clean at the same time. Putting the soap down at the side of the basin, you rinse your hands under the tap. With clean hands, you turn off the tap.”
It didn’t take Hendrik long to realize what I was talking about – but I had contradicted the stateliness of his imperturbable mind where words mean what they say and nothing else. There is no need to imagine if the words state what they state; the only problem here is that you can say only so much with them. Furthermore, the more technical the writing becomes, the more you need your reader to be familiar with the concepts that underlie the terms you use – which is why it’s possible for an International Relations Manager to imagine they can be scientists (3) because they can read the words but lack the necessary imagination to perceive the concepts nestling behind them.
You see, the scientist has been trained in these concepts, and reading a scientific treatise implies that you know them. The scientist doesn’t need to perceive what is being said, because the concepts are now hard-wired in his mind and are thus accessible at all times they are awake.
Reverse Engineering The Imagination.
Which is a problem for those who only imagine they can understand science. Because anybody can read the treatise and think they’ve understood it. Well the key is to ask them what it means. Usually – and this includes the poorer kind of technical scientist – all they can do is repeat one or two of the sentences they’d read. What they haven’t done is to form the concept in their mind and be able to express this in their own way. In terms of this post, they have no access to their imagination.
The point of the concept for the scientist is that when they have pieces of paper to write down their equations on they don’t need to exercise their imagnation. That doesn’t mean that they don’t have an imagination, it just means they don’t use it to anything like its full potential. Oh, and when you don’t use that part of your brain, the neurons in the unused neural pathways will become idle and their synapses unconnected and matted. This is what scientists need if they are to be able to
imagine – sorry – prove dementia (4).
The little that is left that works means that the scientist has access to a few concepts that can only be retrieved using his fixed, logical faculties. After all, if the rest has been forgotten, and forgotten for so long that he hasn’t a clue what it is like to imagine anything else…
Which is the point of this post.
Just because he can’t imagine it, can’t understand it, doesn’t mean it cannot be understood. If a certain anthroposophist of my acquaintance is giving a lecture, the only way she has to find out if her own listeners understood her is to ask “did you understand what I said?” Which leaves both speaker and listener saying “yes” but really meaning “yes”, “no”, or “maybe”. What was it Albert Einstein said? “You can’t solve a problem with the same thinking that created it”. Put the other way around, you can’t know if someone has understood you if you ask them directly. ‘Directly’ implies that the level of thinking is the same.
You see, until a few years ago, I could ask someone “how good is my Dutch?” (I’m afraid that I can’t pull off this trick any more, my Dutch is rather better). The point is, if they gave me a meaningful answer it wouldn’t just tell me how good my Dutch was, but how good they were at using their imagination to estimate things for themselves out of their own experience.
People without recourse to their imagination would have needed me to produce an official certificate to tell them how good my Dutch was… something somebody else had judged for them. My point in this little diversion is to show how I was asking one thing but listening out for more than just the answer they gave me. The quality of their answer, their gestures and manner told me if they were competent in dealing with the things life presents us – or if they couldn’t.
If you are going to ask someone if they understood you, it’s going to take a little more imagination than just asking them “did you understand me?” But then, if a person lacks the imagination to consider the needs of the other person, they aren’t going to ask, are they?
(1) Conversation In Goethe’s Time And Ours.
Being able to converse easily and fluently is the epitome of what it is to be human.
A true conversation is a breathing process, but one that would not be recognized by any medical doctor!
(2) Milena Sees Witchcraft Everywhere.
How The Innocent Become Evildoers.
My Jasper friend came to visit briefly last night, and brought his friend Milena who was visiting him. He usually calls me to tell me he arrived home safely, this time he sounded upset and I asked why. He said that his bathroom had overflowed in some way and had damaged his ceiling; he’d gotten it all cleaned up but was still a little shaken. But he went on to say that he was also feeling a little disturbed by the things Milena had been telling him about me.
Read more by clicking here.
(3) You can meet my International Relations Manager here.
Read more by clicking here.
(4) The Evidence For Dementia
Dementia, is classed as a degenerative disorder; and most of us are familiar with not only the idea, but the realities of what dementia does to someone. Now it is easy to understand that with so many people suffering from dementia, modern medicine is busying itself with treating the condition. Their aim is to prevent it during the early stages. The problem is extremely subtle, in that a degenerative disorder has to start from somewhere, and that starting point will of necessity be all but imperceptible.
(5) The picture of this kitten shows the pupils of the eyes to be round, which in a cat implies terror. I’ve only experienced it once with Misho, when there were fireworks which he hated. Cats, like scientists and one International Relations Manager cannot tell you what they’re thinking*; you have to work it out for yourself by reversing their thinking processes. Using your imagination, of course. (*They think this cannot be done because they lack the imagination to do so).